It was a three-day team meeting. We were having discussion sessions, free time to explore the natural beauty surrounding us, lectures, and presentations. And something else: private one-on-one sessions with a consultant on people’s differences and how we respond to them.
These one-on-one sessions were a big deal. We had completed an extensive questionnaire before the meeting. And we had been assessed on how well we related to others, and to others who were different.
This wasn’t some standard program on diversity. The team was fairly diverse – different races, ages, genders, experiences and socio-economic backgrounds. We were also more of a virtual team. And I was the oldest – a Baby Boomer white male. You can imagine what my expectations were. But I had answered the questions as thoughtfully as I could, and with careful (and truthful) consideration.
The one-on-one sessions caused no little anxiety for all of us. We would each receive what would be a different assessment, given during a one-on-one meeting over the course of the three days. Mine was scheduled toward the end.
As each session was held, I could see a variety of reactions. A couple of the women smiled and shrugged, but said little. A few said it was okay. One individual said nothing. Another muttered something about being a total Neanderthal.
My session arrived. The consultant went over my assessment. Whatever I was expecting, I was not expecting what she told me.
“It’s unusual to see a rating like this,” she said. “You’re as high or higher than the team lead, who’s been working on this for three years.”
I was an anomaly. A surprising one. An older white male who had surprising empathy for people who were different.
It took some discussion with the consultant and some personal consideration afterward to understand why.
Part of the reason was life experiences. My childhood years in the segregated South coincided with the massive social changes underway for both blacks and whites. My high school had experienced riots when it was integrated. My university days were marked by all of the various protest movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. My experiences in corporate America had taught me that corporate life was, on balance, normally unfair and not a merit-based system – and how much time I had spent trying to cushion that for the people who worked with me and for me.
But the biggest reason as what had happened to my heart. Since I had become a Christian in 1973, my heart had been taught, wounded, encouraged, discouraged, disciplined, and exhilarated. Almost without realizing it, I had listened to my heart and what God spoke to it and to me.
In Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain into Your Greatest Strength, Christa Black Gifford describes the four “languages of the heart” that we all have – thoughts, words, emotions, and actions. Each of these languages is important, and each helps shape who we are and what we become.
“Listen to the heart God gave you today, beautiful friend,” Gifford writes. “ “Listen with grace like He does, and you will understand. Watch to see what kinds of thoughts, words, emotions, and actions are residing in your heart. And instead of swinging an axe at your sin and struggling in the name of devotion to God, why don’t you hand your axe to Him and see what He wants to do?”
In my case, what these actions had told me again and again was the importance of listening.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Heart Made Whole. Consider reading along and join in the discussion. To see what others are saying about this chapter, “The Languages of the Heart,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.