Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
When a fight breaks out between my kids, and they can't solve it on their own, here's what I do.
I gather them all and make everyone except one kid shut up. He gets to explain his point of view thoroughly, giving all the details he thinks are relevant, and nobody else is allowed to interrupt. Then the other kid gets to explain his point of view: everything the other kid left out, why the other kid's argument is a gross exaggeration, why we forgot to take into account all the history and extenuating circumstances that led up to the current crisis, and so on -- and no one else is allowed to interrupt. I listen to everything that everyone thinks is relevant; and while each kid is talking, everyone else has to listen, no matter how annoying it is.
Then they all have to shut up, and I say back all the details that I, in my motherly wisdom, think are relevant, important, and beyond dispute. I give them one last chance to clarify anything I've misunderstood or forogtten. And then I hand down my judgment, which I try to make according to simple justice, and according to what I know about how my individual kids actually function. I try to consider what action will make the family run most smoothly, and I try to make each kid know that I understand and take seriously his problems; but there are some things that can't be negotiated away, so I try to make each kid understand that my solution may not make everyone happy, but it does at least take everyone seriously; and I try to make sure they understand the underlying principle behind the decision, especially if someone ends unhappy. It's important that they not only get to say what's on their mind, but hear everyone else saying what's on their mind, because they are all my children. Even the ones who are wrong are important to me. I absolutely will not be able to arrive at anything like justice if everyone is shouting at me at once. You have to shush so your mother can listen.
That's how it works on a good day, anyway. But here's the thing:
If you came in in the middle of the process, you'd think I was being totally unfair. You'd see me letting one kid stand there and have center stage, while everyone else has to just stand around and listen to half-truths, exaggerations, and self-pity. You'd think I was a fool for listening gravely and seriously to what is obviously a biased, self-serving version of what happened.
Or maybe you'd see me letting one kid stand there and having center stage, while everyone else has to just stand around and listen to a bullying, overbearing, jerk. You'd think I was a tyrant for listening gravely and seriously to what is obviously a harsh and inhumane version of how we should treat each other.
This is what it would sound like if you saw only part of the process. But I hope you'd have a different point of view if you tried to understand what I was actually trying to accomplish. A family can't function if it's run like an accounting firm, with a handbook of rules, consequences, and legal stipulations and a very simple bottom line. But it also can't function if it's run like a jam session with interpretive dancers, where everything is constantly in flux, there's no specific goal, and everyone is allowed to do whatever they feel like.
So we don't want to lean too far in one or the other direction. But as long as we're all in the same family, that "you talk, and everyone else shuts up" part is absolutely vital. Sometimes, if you listen, you discover that the kid who appeared whiny has a real grievance, and is actually yearning for help and relief. His needs, if not his solution, are legitimate. Maybe we can't give him what he wants, but we can give him something else that will help -- or at least we can acknowledge his pain, and treat him with more respect. Sometimes, if you listen, you discover that the kid who seemed like a merciless bully has a real grievance, too, and is actually aching for reassurance and structure. His principle, if not his methods, are legitimate. Maybe we can't bring down the hammer like he wants, but we can restore some order where it really counts -- or at least we can acknowledge his frustration, and remind him of what we're truly trying to accomplish when we establish rules.
It's not a perfect analogy, but I think it's worth remembering that if we're going to call each other brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to behave like decent siblings: demanding to be heard, yes; but also remembering to listen to each other if only because we're supposed to love each other. And most of all, we need to give some credit to the authority of our Mother Church.
Right now, we're in the middle (actually, just the very beginning!) of the Synod. So if you read some account of who's got the floor right now, in the middle of the process, and you think, "This is so unfair! This is so one-sided! How can they listen to so-and-so, who's telling this biased, self-serving version of the story?" -- well, that's the point. We need to let everyone give a thorough account of how they see things, and we need to listen while it happens. It's important that everone not only gets to say what's on his mind, but hears everyone else saying what's on their minds, because they are all children of Mother Church. Even the ones who are wrong are important to her. If we don't go through this admittedly painful process, then anyone who was shut up can legitimately complain that his point of view wasn't taken into account.
Let's be patient and wait while the process works. There will be a final report after the synod, and then there may be an Apostolic Exhortation sometime after that, probably next year. I can already tell you that there will be no changes in doctrine; but there may be a new way of explaining doctrine so that it shows the various factions in the Church that they have been heard, that their needs have been taken into account, and that there is more to the story than they realize right now.
Right now? Shush. Someone else is talking. And your Mother Church is listening.