The Desert Retreat House
When I was a parish priest, twice a year when the clocks were either set ahead or moved back, I would regularly engage in a routine information campaign. For two weeks preceding the time change, I would make announcements during the services reminding people to set their clocks. Throughout those two weeks I would also include written reminders in the parish newsletter and additionally in the Sunday bulletin.
Inevitably (I was never disappointed) on the day of the time change, people would either arrive an hour early or an hour late and then immediately after the service (or in an email) they would approach me with a suggestion: "It would be helpful if you would remind us when the time changes."
Twice a year I became keenly aware of just how much people do NOT listen.
Most people think that just because they have "said" something, others have heard what they have said. The truth is that even if someone is actually paying attention to what you say (which is often not even the case), they will often NOT understand what you mean. In fact, I usually tell people that in most communication situations, the only assumption you should make is that the other person has probably NOT understood you; and the reason they have not understood you is because people often don't really "listen."
There is a big difference between hearing something and actually "listening." Listening doesn't inevitably happen. Listening is a discipline -a skill that must be mastered and honed.
I am reflecting on the "discipline of listening" because of something that happened yesterday in an "online" conversation I had with someone responding to one of my blogposts. A few days ago I posted a reflection about how science is only able to explain abound 5% of the "real world" - the rest is unknown, a mystery.
One person took great offense at my posting and he wrote me an angry response. He was convinced that, since I was a priest, I was saying that God is the only explanation for how the world came to be and how the world works. The person was appalled at my anti-intellectual ruminations, thinking that this was "typical" coming from a Christian.
At first I wanted to send back an angry reply asking the guy if he even read what I said because he so totally misunderstood and misrepresented me. But after a few deep breaths, I decided to enter into a conversation with him pointing out that in my post I specifically stated that I reject the simplistic religious arguments about a superman God who made and controls the world. I also pointed out that I have great respect for science, and that it is the scientists themselves who have admitted the limitations of science and uncovered an unknown world.
We went back and forth at this for the better part of an hour. The final result was that the person graciously admitted that he just hadn't understood me because he never even tried to "listen" to what I had to say. He saw that I was a priest and that's all he needed to know. He ultimately said, "I started out thinking that I disagreed with everything you said, but now I can't find a single thing I disagree with." We left as friends and I hope to chat with him again sometime.
I think that really "listening" to another is actually a "spiritual" discipline. When we don't listen, we are acting out of our own selfish bloated "ego." "I" am sure of what you have said even though I really haven't listened to what you actually said- in a sense what you have actually said is irrelevant and unimportant."
You can't really foster or build relationships unless you are willing to get out of your "ego" and listen to the other.
Listening is the link that connects us - and being connected to others is at the very core of the spiritual life.