I’d say our work is cut out for us. Learning to listen on all levels, to all people, places, and things, is quite the goal. We don’t even listen to our bodies. How can we hope to listen to the clash of contraries in our lives and in our world? We seem to think that our first order of business is erecting a defense from which we can launch assaults upon the defensive positions of those about us. We spend our time battering, and being battered by, those who don’t see it as we do, with no one listening to anyone, and everyone trying to have her, or his, views prevail over those of everyone else. Who listens to us ever, anywhere in our lives? Where do we go to be heard? How many sentences can you voice on a matter that is dear to your heart before you are confronted, converted, dismissed, or condemned—or, simply ignored, with the subject being changed, and the conversation shifted to another level, or direction?
Take this as your homework assignment. Count the number of sentences you get to speak on some subject that is truly important to you before being forced on the defense, dismissed, or ignored. Then, count the number of sentences you are able to listen to without challenging, confronting, attacking, dismissing, or ignoring. My hunch is that by week’s end, you will have to conclude that hearing and being heard are rare events in the experience of the species. We do a lot of talking, but not much listening. That has to change.
Listening/hearing, looking/seeing, are the essential components of knowing/understanding which is the foundation of being/living. Or, did you think it was telling/shouting, commanding/ordering? Or, maybe you thought it was attacking/denouncing, bulldozing/demolishing? The verbal equivalent of cruise missiles and smart bombs? That seems to be the basis of civilization as we know it. Argument and debate, not hearing, seeing, understanding.
Listening is time consuming. And, it is not achievement oriented, project driven or goal directed. You start listening, and who knows where you will wind up? It is not the way to get things done. So, we tell people what to do, where to do it, how to do it, and by when to have it done. Getting things done under budget and ahead of schedule is the way we want things done. We don’t have time and energy to waste on anything else. Time is money, you know. So, get to the point and move on!
I don’t see the culture changing. But, we can do better. We can create listening posts, listening stations, listening rooms. We can lean to listen. We can listen one another to the heart of the matter, any matter. We can cultivate the art. We can produce listening environments. We can do that much.
In order to do that much, however, we have to believe in listening as an end in itself. We do not listen to then be able to recommend a course of action or offer sage advice. We listen to listen. That’s it. No advice, sage or otherwise (No parsley, say, rosemary or thyme). No counsel. No fixes. No solutions. Just listening.
Who just listens, these days? Who believes in just listening? Practically no one, it seems. Though, there are some. Quakers have Clearness Committees. A few people are lucky enough to have found their way into Circles of Trust. The rest of us are on our own. And, not withstanding the established, and well documented, fact that over-statement is what I do best, the future of civilization depends on our listening and being listened to.
Here’s why. The old spiritual saying says, “Nothing has quite the transformative, salvific, impact of a path—any path—walked with compassion and awareness.” Or, as it is sometimes phrased, “The path of transformation is any path walked with awareness.” The assumption here, of course, is that compassion and awareness equal justice. If you don’t think that is the case, then you have to add justice to the mix.
Awareness is the result of seeing and hearing. We look and see. We listen and hear. And we deal compassionately, justly, with what is seen and heard. And that transforms, saves, the world. Magically, you might say. The magical mixture, the pixie dust, so to speak, is seeing and hearing with compassion and justice for what is seen and heard.
We cannot see and hear and live as we have always lived. Seeing and hearing changes things. Everything. Changes us. Changes the way we live, and move, and have our being. Nothing is the same after we see and hear. The path to transformation is any path walked with compassion and awareness (and justice).
Which means that nothing is quite the threat to life as we know it, to life as it is being lived around us, as seeing and hearing. Which means that everything is geared to rendering seeing and hearing impossible. The status does not become quo by allowing people to see and hear, don’t you see? It is not in civilization’s best interest to be seen and heard. So, no one listens. No one looks. Or, listening and looking, no one hears, or sees.
If you want to be a part of the revolution, you have to remove the blinders and take off the headset, and begin to look and see, listen and hear. To be a part of the revolution, you have to live with awareness of, and compassion for, what is going on around, and within, you. That is the non-violent, courageous, act that shakes the foundations. Don’t believe me? Try it out. See what happens. But, be warned. The life of a revolutionary is not drip dry, stain proof, wrinkle resistant and trouble free.
It takes time to be seen, and heard, and known. It takes time to establish yourself, and build trust, and be accepted into someone else’s world. People who rush to welcome you without taking the time, without allowing the time, for seeing and hearing and knowing, do neither you nor themselves any favors. There is a “break-in period” for all relationships, a time for “being with,” and seeing, exploring, “what’s there.”
In the ministry, it takes between six and ten years for a congregation to begin to trust you, and for you to be able to trust yourself to a congregation. All that time, of course, you are being who you are and they are being who they are, and everyone is saying, “Is this who you are?” “Is this who you are?” And, if somebody is not being who they are, it blows the whole thing.
So, we have to be ourselves before we can trust the other to receive us gently and treat us lovingly. We create what we need by acting as though it is there before it is. Which, as you might guess, has a certain propensity for a down-side. But, after a while, if you survive, you get better at reading who is faking it and who is not; at knowing where the authenticity is, and where it isn’t; at trusting the rhythm of relationship without having to check its vital signs, or live on the edge of your seat, wondering if it’s real.
It takes a certain confidence in oneself to withstand the suspense of relationship over time—to trust ourselves to something we aren’t sure is trustworthy. We have to trust ourselves. We have to trust ourselves to be okay, to figure things out, to find a way, to deal with what happens regardless of what happens. It is only in trusting ourselves that we have what it takes to take the risks of relationship in being ourselves before we can be certain that the relationship can sustain the full weight of who we are. And, where do you get that confidence? Let’s rephrase the question. What is it going to take to convince you that you have what it takes to take what comes and keep going? To take what comes and do what can be done with it? Where have you been flattened, overwhelmed, demolished, devastated, destroyed, rendered kaput, and didn’t get up, take a deep breath, dust yourself off and step back into your life? What makes you think you cannot handle whatever happens? What, really, do you have to lose?