My parents and I stood frozen, eyes darting, sweat beading on our brows. Time was running out, and we knew we needed to act before it was too late. Taking deep breaths, we plunged into the terrifying mayhem: lunch in the cafeteria on the first day of Summer Stampede.
Our experience at freshmen registration and orientation (now known as Bison Bound) had been pleasant up to that point. We were excited about this new stage of life and enjoyed learning details of the upcoming transition. But when several thousand people simultaneously ambushed the humble Charles White Dining Hall for lunch, I began to fear college more than I ever had before.
After enduring a winding line for an unknown entree, my parents and I had fought our way to the seating area of the caf. Tables were filling up quickly, and purses and jackets were appearing seemingly out of thin air to reserve the few remaining spots. A horrendous thought flitted across my frazzled mind: if we didn’t find seats soon, I may have to sit separately from my parents. We elbowed our way into the fray.
We eventually found a circular table with three vacant, unclaimed chairs, and we happily collapsed into the sanctuary they provided. We had survived. As adrenaline levels slowly relaxed, we fell into casual conversation with the family sitting next to us. These parents were also about to send their oldest child (we’ll call him Bob) to school, and our discussion began to flow freely.
Before long, the conversation turned to what made us pick Harding. We began to discuss other schools we had considered attending. Surprisingly, both Bob and I had been pretty set on another private university before changing course toward Harding. At mention of this, the other mom grew increasingly disdainful.
“Yes, we thought Bob would go there for years,” she said. “But then some of our friends sent their son there, and he came back … ”
Her voice grew to a whisper, as if she was about to utter a curse word.
“ … a Liberal.”
Shock. Horror. Outright disgust. Yeah, I didn’t feel any of that. Any surprise my parents and I felt in that moment was related only to the blatant disdain this woman obviously felt about anyone who was not a die-hard Republican. It seemed as though, in her eyes, a liberal was the worst possible thing anyone could be.
As outlandish as Bob’s mom may seem to you, I think we all have the unfortunate tendency to act like her sometimes. We get so set in our own ways, beliefs and principles that we regard anyone who differs from us as less. They aren’t someone with a different opinion; they’re simply wrong. End of story.
In my first semester Bible class of freshman year, Dr. Ross Cochran, professor of Bible, said something that has stuck with me ever since. He told us that if you ever want to convince someone of your opinion, you must first listen thoroughly to theirs. Before launching into a well prepared argument, listen. Make sure you understand their perspective. If you don’t, listen again. It’s a lofty goal, certainly, but it’s an important one.
As midterm elections approach and the chasm continues to widen between parties, I encourage you to regard those on the other side as neighbors. They may have different opinions, and you may be vehemently opposed on every issue imaginable. You may never feel respected by them, and they may continually plug their ears to what you’re trying to say. Just keep trying. Listen, and listen again. Always stand up for what you believe in, but don’t berate someone else for doing the same thing. And whatever you do — don’t act like Bob’s mom.