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.

Listening to Lifehouse

Working out at the gym, I usually scan Rhapsody for new songs that are good for working out. Sometimes I give up a strong cadence in the music for music that makes me think. Getting lost in thought sometimes is just as good as getting lost in the beat.

One song that caught my attention is by Lifehouse on their newest release, Almeria. The third cut on the album is Nobody Listen. Beginning with a variety of news reports in the background, just being noise, just being talking heads, sets the stage for one of the problems that bothered has me about the way our society ineffectively tries to talk. Over time, we become cynical, numb, and eventually disengaged from too many voices and not enough conversation, not enough thought.

So, take a listen and read along. I hope you like it.

Here's the link to Youtube video:


Listening: Is there anything to hear?

I was inspired by the second presidential debate. I'm not really sure what the opposite of "inspire" is, but this debate did it to me. Regardless of which candidate I wanted to win the debate, and which candidate I wanted to win the election, I was flabbergasted by both of the candidates.

the "talking-but-not-listening" epidemic
As I considered my frustration, it kind of poured out. I felt like I had hit some kind of limit. That all the noise of debating and arguing; posing and positioning had finally crossed some threshold.

Where did we begin to go wrong as a society in communicating? Since most of our culture is informed by commercial interests in competition for viewers, delivery of information is less important than viewers, readers, or listeners.  Was it the Springer Show? Was it the when Rush Limbaugh or Dr Laura went on the air? And more to the point, why did these manifestations of an "in your face" entertainment style actually gain ratings, receive sponsors, and build up market share.
Would it be a reach to be concerned that entertainers are simply giving us what we have asked for?

Over time, we have become a talking-at culture. Listening to the presidential debates and the discussions afterwards, there was little discussion about the source and origin of the positions taken by the candidates. As I listened to others at ball games, neighbors, and friends, I began to see how people were unable to discuss their personal interests and concerns about a wide range of subjects. When people opened up about their positions, they were more like pronouncements. Pronouncements about which there was no reasonable conversation.

Over the year, I want to look at communication, but especially listening. Along with listening, comes the need:
  • to create more effective ways of speaking
  • to create trusting relationships so people are willing to discuss their personal interests rather than positions
  • to understand what occurs in the brain when listening to fear inducing communication
  • to understand ways to speak in order to be more effective
  • to develop tests and tools to measure and assess different listening styles and skills
  • to develop better ways to listen for decision and discernment
  • to develop skills in listening to history, cultures, and experiences of others
  • to find processes that sharpen our listening and discernment for groups
  • to work at listening so as to begin to hear each other in peace
  • and to find confidence in faith that God, too, can be heard 
Next week, I'll be thinking about the time it takes to create listening environments. Listening can be slow and needs time.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Hot Topics

One of the simple things I enjoy after a hard workout at the gym is to sit in the dry sauna. It's a hundred seventy degrees in there. If that's not hot enough, the men and women in there start talking. Usually it starts with a comment about prices of groceries and gas, childcare, and traffic. Mundane stuff, but if folks stay in there long enough, the conversations turn political, comments arise about values, then eventually God is invoked (pietistically or in blasphemy).

Yesterday it was about the prices dropping in the housing market. There were some well-to-do retirees there who worried about their retirement investments and there were a couple middle-aged folks concerned about their equity. One guy, though, mentioned the destabilization in the neighborhoods due to foreclosures. At first some got drawn into that conversation because any drain on the neighborhood, was a strain on their property investments. But then an amazing thing happened. People began to talk about how neighborhoods needed to share in more meaningful community, people getting to know their neighbors and caring about each other. The conversation skipped the politic (which in Idaho usually means blaming the Democrats) and went to straight to the values we share in common.

One of the books I am going through now is Barak Obama's The Audacity of Hope. In the opening chapter, he makes the point that we really want to be able to talk to each other outside the ideological positions. In fact, until can get out of the red-state/blue-state mentality we will not be capable of any real reform in government.

When the sauna conversation skipped politics and went straight to shared values and hopes, we skipped the ideological/political stage. It's been only a few weeks since the election, but are we rally beginning to take seriously the idea of listening to each other? I hope this becomes a habit.

Community Formation

Three days ago I had a great conversation which made me reflect on the value and type of communities in which I participate.

We speak of our "Sidewinder Family" and our "Gold Rush" family. But we never really looked into the dynamics of those "families." These families are composed of at least one boy about the age of 11 years and one or more parents. The Sidewinders is a traveling baseball team that's been together for over two years. The Gold Rush is a football team that's been together for three years. There are several families that overlap both of these groups.

So three days ago, one of the father's of a Gold Rush football team member was completing an assignment for a college composition class. The assignment was to interviews members of a community to find out what forms that community and what value it adds to life. Together with one other father, we discussed our values and how this experience for our boys affected us and made us want to be a part of each other's lives.

What I have realized is that we are a part of this community that is pulled together by youth sports. While youth sports can at times challenge family time, commitment to church activities, and challenge the budget, there is an opportunity to form meaningful shared bonds. We together express a desire to help our kids, and each other's kids to be good people, that is the main focus. But beyond that, we really enjoy one another's company.

Now that football is done, we have a bit of a lull. It will be interesting to see how this community will re-gather itself without or children's activities to pull us together. Will we keep up with each other, or will the tug and fragmentation of modern life keep us apart until next August when the pads and helmets start crunching and crashing again? I hope we keep in touch.