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Better Listening in 2014

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Wonder + Bigger + Spark


Robert Kennedy Funeral train, Harmans, MD, 1968

Three attitudes that can help us listen better in 2014:

1. Regain a sense of wonder. It’s easy to pose as world-weary: our culture rewards the cynic and pessimist as more experienced. But let’s remember the fun of being with people who have a sense of wonder. It’s why we take young kids to see Santa or fireworks or midnight mass or sunrise service: they have the capacity to take it in without the baggage and doubts that come from years of living. It’s a capacity to believe and it need not be lost forever. I still cannot quite believe our Toyota—or any car—runs at negative 13 degrees (Fahrenheit). Slow down to savor the cold, or the taste of Mrs. Kirkistan’s stew or fresh bread, or the smart thing your spouse or colleague just said—all these inch us back toward wonder. And that is where we belong: amazed at the life around us, listening to eagerly take it all in.
2. This thing is bigger than me. In a week or so I’ll start teaching a professional writing class at a local Christian college. One supporting thought I return to again and again is a theological notion that giving ourselves away pays far more dividends than hoarding and habitual self-focus. It’s a thought that pivots around the old notion of kenosis or self-emptying. There are some great ancient texts that work this out and it never fails to open a set of productive thoughts for me, especially when it comes to the task and opportunity of writing. Two take-aways:

  1. It’s quite possible, and even likely, that I learn more about myself by serving others and focusing on others’ needs than I do constantly obsessing over my own needs and wants.
  2. Listening becomes like a tasty meal when I start to wake to the needs and opportunities around me.

This is a message I need to hear all the time. I constantly forget this.

3. See the spark in another person. No one likes the notion that we may have responsibility for a complete stranger, but there is an undeniable pang when you see the homeless person on the corner with the sign. That pang means you are still human (Congratulations!). This notion also has theological roots in the old idea of hospitality to a stranger. That pang moves us to do something—or perhaps we hide from it. Either way, the pang is there. Those moments of recognition occur all day long and they are a call to honor and, yes, listen to, the humans around us. It starts by acknowledging the names of the people in our meeting and moves out from there.

If we grew in listening this year, interesting and possibly amazing things would happen.


Image credit: Paul Fusco via MPD

Written by kirkistan

January 2, 2014 at 9:22 am

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