Put a recovering fundamentalist and a professional astrologer in a car for an hour, and what do you get?

What you get is interesting, to say the least.

We’ve been talking lately about the need to set aside our preconceptions in order to truly hear the other and make dialogue more fruitful. But how does this work in real life? A story might give us some insight, so here we go.

Once upon a time, I took part in a writers’ group with an accomplished astrologer. As we went around the room to introduce ourselves, and she began to discuss her profession, all my defenses went up—the vestige of my fundamentalist Christian past, during which I had learned to equate astrology with evil.

How ironic that we would have to drive to an event together.

During that drive, we discussed her approach to astrology, and I had a choice. I could leave my conservative filter in place, spending the whole time “defending myself” against this “evil” and trying to find holes in the theory behind it. I could also lay the filter aside.

By choosing the second course, I absorbed so much more than I would have otherwise. She told me—and I heard—about the vast gulf between serious astrology and the tabloid version, the practical aims and goals of the profession, and other things that, together, painted a portrait of a viable alternative worldview.

The moral: What I heard about astrology from an astrologer was far different from what I had heard from Christian preachers. Only by setting aside the preacher’s voice in my head could I begin to grasp the reality of the astrologer’s world.

What difference did it make? I still don’t consult astrologers, and I could probably quibble with aspects of their thinking. But in my fundamentalist days, I feared astrology as a wicked practice that could seduce me if I didn’t watch out. An honest conversation dispelled that fear forever—and allowed me to approach other belief systems with curiosity and welcome rather than fear.

Perhaps more important, by setting aside my preconceptions, I could extend grace and a listening ear to my astrologer friend. How many of us could use a dose of that?