Seek First to Understand, then be Understood

By Les McMahan and Jim Boscaljon, co-directors of Alliance Men’s Ministries

In 1989, Stephen Covey wrote a self-help and business ethics book entitled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”   The book isn’t about tweaking a routine for change.  It isn’t about making small adjustments for a better you.  It is about changing your lens on how to see the world.  As Covey puts it, “If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm.”  

Habit #5, “seek first to understand, then be understood,” is of particular interest to me during these turbulent times in the United States.  Unfortunately, this is not how many of us are wired.  Quoting Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.”   

Covey wasn’t original with his habit #5.  The Bible tells us in James 1:19, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  What a message for modern times!

Reviewing the life of Jesus, He appeared to look at the world with a different set of eyes, to love with a different heart, and to walk under different direction.

Jesus saw people!  He was condemned by the religious for being with those who needed him most.  For Him, it wasn’t about appearances or the crowd he was ‘supposed’ to be around.  It wasn’t even about maintaining tradition.  He came to identify with humanity. 

Jesus loved people!  He went against societal norms to meet the needs of the broken, to speak to the lost, and to love the outcasts.  He went against religious norms to bring life to the dead, to bring healing to the hurting, and to love the unforgiveable.   

Jesus lifted people!  He wasn’t afraid to confront those who held people down, mistreated them, or misused them.  He was humbly vocal to ensure that the down-and-out had a voice.  He touched people.  He elevated people.  Think about how the fishermen, tax collectors, lame, ceremonially unclean, blind, despised, children, and women were ALL elevated when Jesus entered their life. 

My prayer is that we see with new eyes, we love with new hearts, and we walk with new direction.

Covey said, “Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education.”   In the next few Men’s Ministry articles, we want to be “quick to listen” and admit our ignorance on some topics, as we HEAR from a wide range of folks related to men’s perspectives around us. 

We are going to seek first to understand, then be understood.