I have to confess: I don’t like Walmart.
I don’t like the layout or the crowds. I don’t like the sub-subsistence wage they pay employees. I don’t like the havoc they wreak on local businesses and communities.
Clearly the entire business is an unmitigated blight on our society.
Clearly I’m as prone to simplistic bias as the next person.
That bias came to light when I woke up last week to a series of reports about Walmart on NPR’s Morning Edition. The segment on workers did highlight the pay issue I mentioned above. It also mentioned Walmart’s employee retirement plan and interviewed neighborhood supporters of the company. It quoted some people as observing that, at least in some communities, Walmart jobs are better than no jobs at all.
The day before, in a segment on community impact, the reporters noted that the Walmart effect is more complex than simply “Walmart comes in and destroys local business.”
Yes, they also raised the oft-repeated criticisms of the company. But overall, the picture presented is more nuanced than I would have thought.
I don’t know why I’m surprised. Time and again I run across input that forces me to re-examine—and usually revise—my opinions and biases. More often than not, these are opinions and biases I didn’t even know I had. The new input uncovers the dross in my inner life and empowers me to change or root it out.
(As a side note, this closely resembles a dynamic well known in the Christian tradition: with divine help, our sinful tendencies become apparent to us, and we strive to clear them out of our hearts in order to make more room for God.)
This attitude toward input is part of fostering dialogue as a habit of the heart. If we give input the opportunity to change our misperceptions, we’ll be more likely to approach the next bit of input anticipating the wisdom it may hold. We bring to it not the usual defensiveness, but a spirit of curiosity and inquiry.
This becomes all-important when that input comes to us face to face, via a living breathing person. Now we are not just welcoming another point of view; we are welcoming the human being behind it. When she says something with which we disagree, we’re more inclined to ask her to explain more, so we can explore the truth with her. And just like that, dialogue begins.
When was the last time you let some new input shape your old ideas? What was it like? Would you do it again, and why or why not?