Reflection: Listening is Important

by Father Don Thomas

How many times have we heard it said that communication is important in our daily lives? Experience teaches us that people can communicate by talking, by writing or also by the use of sign language. Each one of these methods can be very effective and productive. It is generally acknowledged that communication is a two-way street or procedure—sending a message and receiving a message. We might have a "talker" and a "hearer", but in this reflection, we want the"hearer" to be more than a "hearer". We want to stress the word "listener". Let us note that there is a big difference between listening and hearing.

One can easily hear without listening but one can hardly listen without hearing. Hearing can be instantaneous while listening is more permanent and results from concentrating on what is heard. This is illustrated by pausing and concentrating on the buzz sound coming from a florescent light. You are not only hearing it, but you are listening also. Another thing about "hearing" is that it can be "active" or "passive", and that is why we hear the expression "selective hearing". We hear only what we want to hear.

Many of us are not good listeners. The proof of this fact are some of the remarks that are so frequently heard repeated over and again: "for the 5th time, will you turn off that TV and get to bed?” or “do your homework”, or “do the dishes”, or “vacuum the living room”, or “put gas in the car when you are finished with it"? Sound familiar? We hear others say "Your problem is that you have never learned to listen, or with you it seems that things go in one ear and right out the other". If we can only learn to listen, we can easily and frequently avoid a lot of embarrassment in our lives. Re-live with me a situation in one of my former parishes years ago, where this cranky old priest was exasperated with many of the people coming up for holy communion. When he would say "the Body of Christ", they were not answering "Amen" the way they had been taught. So, he would say it for them, with a loud and dragged out "AYYYYYmen"!!! He said this to one after the other with the same results. All over the church you could hear it. Then, during the week, I would sometimes run into some of those people in the store or at the post office and they would plead with me to tell that cranky old priest "to stop embarrassing them by saying that loud AYYYYYYmen at communion time". I would say to them: "I have a better solution to your problem. Why don't you take this seriously and start answering the "Amen" the way you were taught. Hundreds of others are doing it and so can you. That's the right thing to do. I am sure that in our lives we can all think of times that if we had listened, we would have avoided many arguments, loss of time, temper tantrums, being grounded and sent to our rooms, or other punishment. We ended up very often in strained relationships, hurting others and ourselves in the process.

Speaking of relationships, consider how often it must happen where a son asks his father for ten minutes to talk about something. Almost without hesitating, the father responds that he is running late for a meeting, a golf game or some kind of meeting at school, church or the office. Because this father really loves his son, he gives him ten dollars instead of ten minutes. Repeat the same scenario with the teenage daughter who asks her mother for ten minutes to discuss a problem. Same results. Busy Mom is running late for a meeting, for a movie with other ladies, for a meeting at church or school, and in this situation also, the ten dollars are given to the girl instead of the ten minutes. How truly sad! These scenarios are repeated thousands of times daily. Consider this. The son wanted to share with his father that at school a couple of the guys are giving him a hard time about drugs, drink and sex, demanding that he also hand over his lunch money to them. He wanted his father to go down to the principal to discuss these problems before something drastic happens. The father, however, had no time to listen. What the daughter wanted to discuss with her mother was the conduct of her boyfriend who was hitting her at times, taking liberties with her, sexually, and upsetting her very much in the process. But again, we have a mother who is too busy to listen.

The dreadful consequences of these situations are realized about two months later when the son is expelled from school and arrested for drugs, drink, and breaking into homes, and the young lady ends up black and blue, physically abused and pregnant. Now, we cannot believe how the mother and father blast the son and daughter verbally , and all the blame is placed on the youngsters. "How can you disgrace your parents and your family like this? How could you hurt your mother and father after all we have done for you? Why didn't you at least let us know you were having problems"? And on and on goes the blame and guilt. Then begins the real anger, resentment, the silent treatment and sometimes complete rejection. In time, we must admit, some parents eventually are honest enough to face reality and say, "If only we had listened"! Needless to say, these misunderstandings occur between husbands and wives, bosses and employees, priests and parishioners, bishops and priests, and others.

In our society today, as far as religion is concerned, I see this happening with many of the people and their relationship with the church. How many Catholics, for example, keep kidding themselves by saying "don't get me wrong, for I am a Catholic and I will die as a Catholic" These people for the most part are very good individuals, but now they no longer want to listen to the voice of Christ or the voice of the Church. No more Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation, no more Easter Duty, no more Confession, no more getting married in the church. Also favoring living together, artificial birth control, abortion, and divorce, while giving the impression all the while that there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle. They no longer listen the way they did twenty years ago and now they completely neglect or reject those teachings. Yes, our failure to listen can indeed affect our relationship with our church.

Nursing homes are another source of learning about the importance and value of listening. So many patients are so lonely and sad, feeling unwanted and unloved. Here is what happens so often in these nursing homes. A person like you or me can go in and say "hello" to a patient, and the patient takes off talking for a half hour or for an hour, practically non stop, and when they finish, they end up thanking you for listening, as if you had given them a million dollars. They cannot thank you enough, and all that time, you did not speak, but you did listen. That is how important listening is to those beautiful people.


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