I've become fascinated by our weakened ability to listen intelligently. Many more times than I wanted to keep track of in the past cycle of elections, people, not just candidates stopped listening. I'm not sure if they ever intended on listening.
Listening can feel like a slow process. It may not be all that that slow, it is just that the pace is being determined by others. Listening feels like waiting, it feels inactive. It is especially that way when one is listening to something disagreeable, incorrect, challenging, or not fully thought through. We want to refute, correct, defend ourselves, or critique. But what if we were just to listen? What might we hear?
"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice," Jesus said. Notice that Jesus doesn't tell us that the truth is the possession of any one. It is the other way around. Truth possesses us. We are held in truth, but perhaps only to the extend that we get ourselves tuned to its ring.
Today I was talking to one of our students who is volunteering at a senior residential facility. He is studying to become a health care administrator so he can eventually work there. As he was telling me about the pure enjoyment he receives from listening to the residents. They talk about family. They talk about trips. They tell stories of the land, its changes and the transitions in their lives and the life of the community. But these residents often feel cast off and alone. My student described the deep appreciation the residents have for those willing to spend time and just listen.
Much of this kind of listening is slow and deliberate. For those of us who keep trying to be active and get things done, this kind of listening feels like a waste of time. We know that it isn't a waste, but there is often an ambivalence that keeps us swaying between getting tasks done, stating our own opinions, and moving on to the next subject. But for the residents at this senior living center, the greatest gift seems to be listening.
Why does such listening have to be limited to such times and places? What happens when we live in a society that has placed so much value on correct answers, knowledgeable opinions, and quick responses and relinquished the responsibility of actively listening well? What all do we miss when so much of what we say and hear becomes derivative drivel lacking any insight?
We need to learn to listen again.