Teaching Millennials to Give it Five Minutes


In his book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, Alan Jacobs addresses the divisive climate that dominates our public discourse and challenges us to learn the requisite virtues for constructively engaging different points of view. That sounds a lot like learning to love your neighbor. That’s much better than relegating them to the abyss for seeing the world differently than you do.

Considering the habits we cultivate online, loving your neighbor by listening to and engaging with their perspective is increasingly difficult to do. The masses teach us to shame those who depart from our preferred orthodoxy. But the church is a place where we can learn to sharpen our own thinking while retaining the humility to acknowledge we could be wrong. We can learn the habits of discourse that strengthen a society, foster virtue, and increase knowledge, first by practicing with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and then in our interactions with the wider world.

Disagreements can remain sharp even when attempting to be charitable. Being charitable is the challenge. When you encounter a person with whom you disagree and you find yourself quickly formulating a refutation, one habit Jacobs prescribes is to “Give it five minutes.”

Jacobs tells a story to illustrate, writing:

Some years ago the entrepreneur Jason Fried wrote of attending a lecture and not liking what he heard. With every passing minute his disagreements piled up, and as soon as he could talk to the speaker he rushed in with his refutation. The speaker listened to him for a little while and then said, “Man, give it five minutes.”

Mr. Fried was stopped in his tracks—and then so taken by the speaker’s request that he adopted “Give it five minutes” as a kind of personal watchword. It ought to be one for the rest of us too. But before that can happen, we need to reflect on the ways that our informational habits—the means (mostly online) by which we acquire and pass on and respond to information—strongly discourage us from taking even that much time.

As digital natives and maturing people, this is great advice for Millennials. It also correlates well with Christian convictions on love, patience, listening, and responding in kindness. But Jacobs writes as a Christian. And the idea that we can be charitable and loving toward those who are wrong is a Christian one. In Christ, God has been charitable to us.

If we would embrace this advice, social media would look a lot different. So would everyday conversation. The church would be stronger. And the world would be a better place.

Ben SimpsonComment