Monday, February 4, 2008

Listening vs. Hearing

I once had to engage a friend in a very tense and emotionally-charged talk. My feelings were hurt and I felt that he had betrayed our friendship. It was one of those moments in which I had that sense of the rug having been pulled out from under me, and I was going to make him pay for this.

At least, that’s how I felt an hour before we met up to talk.

Prior to my arrival at our meeting place, I did some exercises I had learned to deal with my anger. I let my body shake and rock to release the fury and the need to exact punishment. So, by the time I saw him, my mind and my heart had been cleared for a conversation instead of a confrontation. I gave him the opportunity to begin our talk, but quickly stopped him before he could get going.

“I want you to know that I did some things to get ready for this, and so not only will I listen to you; I will hear you!”

In looking back on that conversation, I am struck by how important it was to make that distinction between “listening” and “hearing” the other person. I could have let him talk and explain himself and offer defenses, apologies, mea culpas, etc. and I could have listened to all of that. But hearing him meant that I was not putting those same words through my “judgment filter”; instead, I was coming from an empathetic place and allowing that my friend had been human and made some mistakes for which he now was sorry. The “hearing” meant that I could be forgiving. And a friendship could be saved.

Side note: I subsequently did something that hurt my friend, and he offered me the same kindness of a talk where he modeled my “hearing” approach as we cleared the air.

Being heard has always been important to me. I used to drive my parents nuts as a child when I would sit in the kitchen in the evening pestering them to “Listen! Listen! Listen!” to whatever I had to tell them about what had happened at school that day. I grew up to be a radio journalist, and often thought that this career choice was answering that need within me to have people hear what I had to say. And part of my frustration as a reporter came from the feeling that my words were falling on deaf ears because nothing ever seemed to change. I don't know; maybe people were listening…without hearing!

I don’t have a strong enough foundation in the Bible to talk in any wise and learned way about the notion of hearing and listening to God’s word. But, as a mere lay person currently getting troubled by God on a daily basis to show up and pay attention in this life, I can see that there are many passages in the “Good Book” that highlight the importance of both listening and hearing to what’s being said. My sense is that we’re being called first to listen and then in the listening, we’re commanded to “Hear, O Israel” and take what’s being said deeper into the soul. The “Hear, O Israel” is the start to one of the important Jewish prayers, and is the directive to love God, and love thy neighbor. And, if my non-theologically-informed experience with my friend is any indication, it is also through the hearing that we can achieve the goal of the Lord’s prayer to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we trust that God is hearing us when we admit to our shortcomings then we can (or should) do the same for other people.

And friendships can be saved!

1 comment:

MCG said...

I have found my old friend at the National Church and I hope I can send this piece and others to her for her to look at.

As always a thoughtful good job.