One day after participating in a diocesan workshop on radical listening, two couples sat together in a movie theater to watch a documentary titled “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.” Early in the documentary the pope looks directly toward the camera and says, “Talk little. Listen a lot.”
For the couples, that advice seemed like a divine reminder of the lessons learned in the workshop. We will fall into the bad habit of talking too much and listening too little unless we practice listening skills in everyday life, even a trip to the movies!
The pope thinks the world “is mostly deaf.” Proof of his observation exists everywhere in the world today. Talk shows feature commentators of similar mindsets criticizing commentators on other talk shows with a different point of view. Opposing political parties won’t support one another’s legislative proposals if it would cost members the loss of support of their constituents or their president. Some individuals who have felt alienated or ostracized have gone on shooting rampages in our country, destroying lives and scarring the families and communities left behind. Who was willing to listen to the ostracized when they needed someone to hear them? Who is listening to the families whose grief doesn’t end when media coverage does? Who knows the impact of a vicious post on a sensitive person in the vacuum of the internet and mobile devices?
We think we are listening, but oftentimes we are not. We interrupt, shout, ignore, change the subject and wonder why no one will listen to us! Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” observed that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Think about the last conversation you had with your spouse, son or daughter, grandchild, sibling, co-worker, neighbor or stranger. Did you give full attention to that person? Or were you thinking: I have an errand to run, an assignment to complete, dishes to wash, a text message to respond to, an appointment to make? Or did you interrupt to make a point or digress to another topic?
Communication in the digital age consumes our waking hours, and sometimes our sleeping hours. We’re distracted, stressed out, overwhelmed by a 24/7 culture that demands instant responses and results. No wonder we can’t focus ourselves enough to listen with understanding to the person speaking to us.
“How do we listen to others if we don’t listen to God first?” That question was posed by Barb Schwery, Executive Director of BeFriender Ministry National Office in Bloomington, Minn., during the June 9 diocesan workshop she facilitated in Riverside. Her question deserves our contemplation, as do these suggestions from BeFriender Ministry on how to listen to God:
• Find a space for quiet reflection.
• Take a few minutes to center. If you are distracted by what comes to mind, write it down.
• Ask yourself, “What is God saying to me today?” Write down what you hear.
• Spend some time with Scripture. Contemplate the words or phrases that catch your attention. What stirred you? What startled you? What invitation did you hear from God?
• This is your time to listen to God. There is no right or wrong way to spend your time.
Scripture provides abundant examples of Jesus Christ taking time to listen to his Father in prayer and to the people he encountered in ministry on earth: his mother Mary at the wedding at Cana, the woman at the well, the demoniac, his apostles, detractors and executioners. As his followers, we are expected to do the same.
Imagine how different our world would be if each of us took the time to “Talk little. Listen a lot.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor