When I think “automatic-responder” I immediately think about emails I’ve received from people who are going to be out of their office for a week, who set up their servers to automatically send reply emails to their contacts. These auto responder emails inform the contact they’ll have to wait for a personal response. This got me to thinking about how many things we do automatically, and whether this a good thing or a bad thing.
Many people I know are entirely like robots, with quick automatic responses. As a pastor I would often tell people, “I love you,” because I did love them as the people in my congregation. It didn’t mean anything beyond, I love you as a person. But more often than not, the auto-response was, “I love you too Pastor.” As humans we do this a lot. When you greet someone with “How are you doing today,” 90-99% of the time you’ll get the response: “Fine, great, wonderful, or ok.” The programming in our brains, and the culture we’ve grown up in, cause us to respond without thinking. These simplistic (and I know they are simplistic) examples lead me to my theory. I posit that human creatures often listen to “RESPOND” rather than listening for understanding.
In the movie iRobot, Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a Chicago police detective, who is sent to investigate the death of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the co-founder of U.S. Robotics (USR) and its main roboticist. Lanning shows up in a holographic projector who instructs Spooner that the “real question” is “why” he would commit suicide. The hologram is only programmed to answer specific questions, and constantly responds with “you’re not asking the right question.” Again, humans are not robots, and we are not programmed to only respond to the right questions, but we are limitless in our ability to carry on an in-depth dialogue with other humans. Yet, we often sacrifice this ability, because we do not listen to understand. Rather, we listen to respond, like an automaton programmed to only react to certain “either-or” questions.
Which brings me to another unique feature of being human. Not only do we communicate with each other, we also have the ability to communicate with our Creator. This was also a theme in the movie, sentient thought from a robot. Sonny – the iRobot – was programmed differently from every other robot of his kind, giving him the ability to think and dream and make choices outside the normal programming rules. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies improve, the world awaits the reality of a “Sonny”-like robot that approaches human normalcy. Sonny apparently in the fictional world of the future could talk and interact with Dr. Lanning (his creator). This imagery, while unsettling to some, give us context for our relationship with God.
However, God did not create us as robots, but in His image. The primary attribute of God with which humans are endowed is: Choice. I choose to shower and shave daily, or not. It brings humor to the post I saw on FaceBook today: “Clean and sober means: I’ve showered and shaved, and I’m on the way to the Liquor store.” Choice is a unique and inherent attribute of human existence. Therefore, we can choose to know God, talk with God, hear from God, but in a spiritual sense, not physical. So, I’ll wrap it up this way…
I am not a robot. As such, I have a choice to listen to respond, or to listen to understand. Whether I’m talking to another person, or talking to God. Interpersonal communications is so much more satisfying when I listen to understand. Understanding brings context, and if I filter my responses to the people around me, or to God, through understanding, all our lives would be enriched. I challenge my readers today to make the choice: quit listening to respond, and start listening to understand. You are not a robot either.