Listening

It is all in what you are listening for

This story came by way of Rev. Nancy Allen who shared it at an Academy for Spiritual Formation in February 2017. If this story does not originate with her I am unsure of the source. 

There was a grandfather and grandson walking down the busy street in the city. Cars moving, trucks unloading cargo, people chatting in the cafe patios that ran along the sidewalk but the two walked hand in hand through the city streets with ease. Suddenly the grandfather stopped and said, "Do you hear that?!" 

Quickly the grandfather escorted his grandson to a flower box at the end of one of the cafe patios. Pulling back the flowers and the ivy, the grandfather exposed a nest where six baby birds where chirping. 

Amazed that his grandfather could hear such small birds over the noise of the city asked, "How did you hear those tiny birds?!" 

The old man reached into his pocket and pulled out a half dozen coins and threw them onto the ground where they pinged and rolled into the street. 

As the coins rolled into the street the young man noticed that everyone in the street cafe enjoying their coffee and conversation stopped, turned their heads and looked at the coins. 

The grandfather said, "It is all in what you are listening for."


The more we hear what we want to hear, the more deaf we become.

The more we see what we want to see, the more blind we will be.

The more we love what we want to love, the more we love ourselves. 

"Think with your eyes and feel with your ears"

Malcolm Gladwell was on "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert not long ago. Colbert asked Gladwell why he was making a podcast when he is more than able to sell books and is quite popular in the world of popular writing. In response, Gladwell cited his friend Charles (I cannot catch the last name) who said, "you think with eyes and feel with your ears." 

There is a little back and forth here between the two while Gladwell attempts to make his overall point but here is the interview in full to consider:

While Colbert has a point that there are times that we "feel" deeply when we read a book or a poem. I would argue that the times we are emotionally moved by a text is when we allow it to "speak" to us and we "hear it" in our souls. However, Gladwell's point is getting at there is so much conveyed in sound that is lost on a page. You don't catch the nuances that come though when someone is speaking about something that is at their core. Sure you can read a sermon, but it is much different to hear a sermon.

For instance, this is the video clip of the moment that Gladwell mentions that will forever be remembered from Colbert's previous interview: 

Notice Munoz's voice and pauses and pacing and tone. There is an emotion and a feeling that one cannot get by just reading the transcripts. 

At risk of sounding like a technology curmudgeon, when we prefer to use text over voice as a primary communication then we need to understand what we are loosing. The gains in productivity we may get in "texting" another are perhaps by way of sacrificing the emotional connection we build when we talk to one another. 

I am not sure how one would go about tracking if the rise of text communication is inversely related to the decline of empathy but there are interesting studies that explore the decline of empathy.

We may be getting smarter but we may also getting "the feels" less often. 

How to debate to change the world

There are all sorts of tips and strategies about how to debate. I am not a debate coach, but from what I understand, at the cor, debates are something that is understood as something as you either win or loose. As we conclude the last Republican party debate for 2015, there is chatter about who won and who lost. The underlying assumption is that debates are to be done in a manner that if you "win" you change the minds of others and if you loose you failed to do that. 

Some in the Church feel like religion is a big debate. That is a series of conversations that happen in order to "convert" someone to their team through arguments. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever been persuaded to much of anything  though debates and arguments. And this is an unfortunate byproduct of the original goal of debates - that is to change the world.  

I would like to share with you a secret I learned from very wise clergy mentors on how to debate in order to change the world. It is easy to understand and yet perhaps the most difficult thing to do. I have learned through this practice however that this simple yet difficult act can and has changed people's minds and even the world. 

Here is what you do.

When you are in a debate with someone, stop for just one moment and try to hear what it is the other person values in their argument. Then, affirm that value. 

That is it. If you are able to affirm the value of the other person something happens. 

First, you have to listen, and I mean really listen in order to identify the underlying value. Second, you have to give your conversation partner credit for something that is, in your mind, good and valid. Giving credit to one you are in a debate with is often seen as weakness in a debate as though you are conceding the argument. Third, when you affirm the other person's value you are affirming them as a person of worth and value. You no longer see them as opposition but as equal peer. 

For instance if you are opposed to individuals owning a certain type of gun and you are en ganged in a conversation with someone who owns the exact type of gun you oppose and you wanted to create a change: try first to listen to the underlying value to their reasons for owning such a gun(s). Perhaps it is freedom or safety or a right. Whatever the value is, can you then make a statement that affirms that value. It might sound like, "I think your appreciation for personal freedom is really excellent and I wonder if you would be willing to share more about other ways you desire to safeguard freedom." 

And therein lies the way to debate to change the world. If we are able to listen to another, share in words of grace and affirm the "other" as a person and not an enemy, then the debate model is turned on its head. It no longer is about trying to get another person to come to your side as it is about you growing in empathy and compassion to try to see the world through their eyes.

And with more empathy in the world, the world will change. 

Best use for your cell phone at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means a lot of things, but it also means it is the National Day of Listening. It is the day that you are invited to interview a loved one and hear from them some of their story and life. Recently, StoryCorps put out an App for your phone which comes set with all you need to conduct your own interview. It is easy to do and will take about 8 minutes if you don't know what you are doing to get the hang of it.

Even if you don't use your cell phone to record a great conversation with a loved one this Thanksgiving, it is my hope that you will join me in not only giving thanks but opening our ears to listen to others. 

God knows we could all use a little more listening these days.