There is an old story (maybe it’s true, maybe not), that Franklin Roosevelt became tired of the insincere conversation that accompanied many of the White House receptions. One night he decided to see if anyone was paying any attention to what was being said. As he shook hands with guests filing through a receiving line, he smiled and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” No one noticed. They just gave the usual protocol answers, “O how nice!” or “Keep up the good work,” and “Great!” Until finally, one foreign diplomat was listening. FDR said his usual, “I killed my grandmother this morning,” and the man leaned in and said, “She probably had it coming.” Whether that story is true or apocryphal, listening has become rarer in the last 85 years.
Listening seems to be a lost art. There is a lot of talking, a lot of noise, but not a lot of listening. James reminds us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:25). More times than not these days, people have flipped James words and are very quick to become angry, quick to let others know it, and very slow to listen. Wanting to be heard, but not hearing is one of the great tragic outcomes in our social media driven society.
But we need to listen.
Listening leads to understanding (“Wow, I see how your situation can be terrible”).
Understanding leads to empathy (“It makes me sick that you’ve had to endure this”).
Empathy leads to compassion (“We’ve got to do something about it”).
Compassion leads to action (“Let’s go!”).
Action leads to change (“The world is a better place.”)
All change begins with listening. Good doctors, counsellors, teachers, pastors, politicians, spouses and parents are good listeners. Hearing is the essential first step toward help and healing.
There once was a husband who was having trouble communicating with his wife. He thought for sure the old woman was losing her hearing. On a mission to prove his point, he conducted a personal hearing test. While she sat on the other side of the room with her back to him, he quietly asked, “Can you hear me?” There was no response. He then moved a little closer and asked the same question. “Can you hear me?” Again, no response. Closer. Same question. Still nothing. The guy got right next to her and asked the very same question, “Honey, can you hear me now?” He was shocked by her response, because with a twinge of irritation she screamed, “FOR THE FOURTH TIME YES, I HEAR YOU!!!”
The problem hearer was him. How many people in our social media driven times need to discover this same lesson? Could it be that some of the problems in our homes, churches and nation are the result of folks wanting to be heard but not listening? Someone very famous has said, “He who has ears let him hear.”