Posts Tagged listening

“Listening Is Hard Work :

Wednesday September 21, 2022

Organization: Alliance for Christian Media
Denomination: n/a

“To be heard is to be healed,” according to the Rev. Susan Sparks. A great many of our problems and national wounds could be healed, if we would listen to one another.

No one wins nor do we make progress when we shout at each other or turn a deaf ear to a proposal without considering its possible merits. This is no easy solution. Listening is hard work even under the best of circumstances. One must make a conscious effort to actively listen and not interrupt.

Interrupting is an act of war. It shouts that what I have to say is more important than what you have to say. We may feel that way, but if progress is to be made we must be willing to listen. That does not giving the other person permission to run on forever. We are talking about give and take in a civil conversation. Bishop Sally Dyck of the United Methodist Church has suggested Holy Conferencing. The idea is that the person holding a plastic dove has permission to talk without interruption. The dove is then passed to someone on the opposite side of the issue.

Calling each other names or pinning labels on each other will make the situation worse. A sure way to block real communication is to tell me that the problem is my fault. That may be true, but it will not move the conservation forward. Instead try, “Here is a way that could help us solve our impasse.”

If I treat you with respect and you treat me with respect, we are well on our way to creating an environment in which it is possible to make progress. I am not suggesting that it is necessary for any of us to give up our convictions or principles. I am suggesting that we sincerely take the time to listen to each other.

There are so many issues on which we disagree, but there are so many more issues on which we agree or have some levels of agreement. Start with the basics. I love this country and I know that you do as well. I am in favor of national health insurance for all of our citizens. Help me understand why you are not. I favor finding a way to citizenship for the so called Dreamers. Tell me why you are not. At this point you are tempted to call me a liberal, but that would not move us forward nor would it solve our problem.

Perhaps I should rephrase my statement. How could we improve accessibility to health care for all Americans? Are there some steps we could take that would lead to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers?

I have dinner every week with a group that I have been eating with for at least 35 years. We celebrate birthdays and holidays. We have attended weddings and funerals in each other’s family. All of the others in the group are members of a different political party from me and yet we have found a way to maintain our friendships. It has not always been easy, but we are dedicated to one another.

Honest conversation is rare because it is so difficult. It requires effort and a willingness to engage. It is far easier to ignore you, discount you or call you names. That requires no thought at all, but I am the loser. Our country, our civic organization or our church is the loser. As usual the Scriptures say it best: “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)


Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. He is the founder of Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday on the first Sunday in June. He blogs at

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Are We Listening? Pat Took” goodfaithmedia

“Hello”, I say, looking down at the bundle in my arms. The baby peers up with squiffy eyes, straining to discern where the sound is coming from and what it might mean. In this overwhelming need to communicate we reflect the image of the God who is Word, the God who speaks life.

Three years later the little girl wakes up chattering and goes to bed without pausing for breath. Listening has become talking in the drive to uncover meaning. And from that early reversal we seem set to find speaking both more congenial and considerably easier than listening. This is not surprising, since what I have to say is already within my head, within my mind, awaiting the opportunity for articulation, whilst what you have to say requires a pause in my thoughts and speech, a journey outwards on my part to discover your meaning. Our instinctive desire to communicate has become problematic. We have become curved in on ourselves and struggle to step generously over our threshold to give proper attention to someone else. We need God’s help to relearn the art of listening, but we must decide to do this, we must make the effort to do this, for the sake of ourselves and of each other, for the sake of the church and of the Kingdom.

We must listen for our own sake. No-one’s life is long enough to acquire, simply by our own discovery, the knowledge and experience we need – we depend on the wisdom of those who have gone before. Our wellbeing, perhaps our survival, depends on our paying attention to accumulated and inherited knowledge. This requires a degree of humility in those who grow up so much more technically skilled than their elders. They have to discern that age brings a different kind of wisdom – a wisdom worth listening to. It also carries a responsibility to courtesy and love in those who are older, to listen to and learn the shape and pattern of life as it is experienced by this generation, which is so different from that which shaped us, and to discover new knowledge and new wisdom. What if that new wisdom challenges, undermines ideas we have held sacred, principles we hold dear? Perhaps at that point the shutters come down. But thoughtful discussion with those who think differently enables our own perspective to be clarified, or changed. To be genuinely open to the new and the different we need not just humility but also courage, generosity and confidence. The conversation among us on issues of gender has demonstrated the difficulty and the fruitfulness of this. In the voyage into understanding I need to listen to all the voices, the dissonant ones, the strange ones, the harmonious ones, allowing myself to glean truth wherever it is to be found, to be enriched, to have my heart expanded and my mind broadened by them all.

And then there is you. To listen seriously to you is a proper honouring of the debt I owe to love and to humanity. It requires that I should set myself aside, my opinions, my experiences, and pay attention to what you have to say, to who you are.  When this self-forgetting does not take place, conversation becomes a fraud, communication self-enclosed, impervious, fruitless as two people talk past each other in a kind of concurrent monologue – two voices speaking and no-one listening.

And just as we are called to speak the truth in love, so listening for the truth also requires love, to look for the kernel of what the other is attempting to convey – to look for the best within that. Simply as a human being I am obliged to pay attention to you because you need to be heard. And I too, needing to be heard, have a right to expect you to listen, as a matter of humanity and love. And very occasionally, with a proper reticence and care, we may be called to speak for God into the situation of someone else’s life. Within the Christian community we have the gift of intentional and holy listening: confession. Many of us have known what it is to hear someone pour out the grief and distress, the regrets and hopes of their life, and listening with the greatest care to gather up those broken fragments before God in prayer. And we have seen that person go on their way liberated and restored simply for having been heard – heard by God – heard by us. The therapeutic power of being heard is widely appreciated: the awareness of the presence of God brings hope and power to such conversations.

Above all, for the sake of the Kingdom, we need to listen for the voice of God. And those most careful in listening to each other will have the greatest facility for hearing God. That God speaks, and that his speech is personal, is the testimony of all the faithful. Most often we hear him in the words, the voice, perhaps the action of another person. Frequently it is through those who are closest, family, colleagues and friends. We must pay attention even to the most familiar because it may be God who is speaking in this familiar tone. The one who speaks in Scripture and preaching and worship, through mentors and spiritual friendships and all the wealth of the Christian tradition speaks also through the nine-to-five mundane experiences of our daily lives. But are we listening?

The difficulty we have in listening is a particular problem for Baptists who are governed by community discernment. We aim to discern together the mind of Christ. Pointless for those who come to the meeting already knowing Christ’s mind, fixed already in their own opinion. Difficult when our agendas of self-aggrandisement and success run counter to the teachings of Christ, when fundamentally we do not want to know his will. Only by listening to each other within the company of pilgrims will we learn what tones are recognisably his – those that call us forward out of ourselves into demonstrations of love, into that which is generous, grace-full, hopeful. Every church meeting opens up the possibility of further conversion to the ways and priorities of Christ, provided we are listening – listening to the least significant, the least articulate, the least sane, in the knowledge that they too might be speaking with the voice of Christ.

In the stillness of the night,
I listen.
Only footsteps and shouts of the guards,…
Brother, we seek and call for thee!
Brother, do you hear me?

Voices in the Night  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1945

*Pat Took is a former Team Leader of the London Baptist Association, and was Baptist Union President 2011-12

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What Are Your Hot Buttons?

“When she said that I stopped listening.” What stops you from being a good listener? You may or may not be aware of your hot buttons. Hot buttons are those words or phrases that cause you to mentally drop out of a conversation and start battling back either literally or mentally.

Some of the hot buttons words are well known: stupid, irrational, prejudiced, redneck, do-gooder, too old, too young. Some common hot button phrases are: you always say that, you never listen to me, you never talk to me, and you wear your feelings on your sleeve, don’t turn your back to me, you’re so smug, shut up and settle down. Your hot buttons are likely different from mine. I am turned off by those you yell at me or who use profanity or racial slurs.

It is important for us to know what our hot buttons are so that we can counteract our drive to respond. If we respond in reaction to our hot buttons being pushed, the struggle for understanding or reaching an agreement is lost. Chances are that our communication partner know what our hot buttons are. Remember the minute you become angry, the other person has won. Becoming angry takes away our ability to think clearly.

If you know what your hot buttons are, you can guard against your reaction to them. You are better able to stay in the conversation and reach a satisfactory conclusion. We cannot always predict the response of others as when a female friend was greeted with, “You ride a Harley, don’t you?” My friend’s response was startling. “Indeed I do not. Anyone can ride a Harley. I drive a Harley.” My friend bristled over being demoted from a driver to a rider. Obviously there is some history there that the other person could not have known, but she pressed a hot button. In cases like this we need to take notice of a trouble point and avoid confrontation. This requires active listening.

Effective listening is not passive. It is active. This is why we cannot do anything else and actively listen at the same time.

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Who Listens to You?

Do you have a friend or relative who truly listens to you? Do you really feel heard? Recent research from the Grossman School of Medicine at NYU reveals that having someone who listens to us is the best weapon for staving off or lessening the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely do you provide that listening ear to someone in your circle of friends? “Supportive social interactions in adulthood  are important to stave off cognitive decline despite brain aging or neuropathological changes such as those present in Alzheimer’s disease.” (August 16, JAMA)

Too many of us are eager to talk. We are just waiting for a break in the conversation to rush in with what we think is more important. We need to be more thoughtful with our listening. Pay attention to what the other person says. Ask her or him a question. Listen to the answer and respond to what she or he said.  Larry King was such a good interviewer on television because he was such a good listener. He would ask a question, listen carefully to what the other person answered. He based his next question on what the interviewee said.

Whether people agree with our position or not we feel much better about the situation when we come away feeling that we have been listened to. Being heard is the point. In your relationships, who is the best listener? Why? What characteristics does she or he have that causes you to say that she or he is the best listener? Conversations do not run smoothly. There is lots of give and take. Pay attention to who really listens. Try not to interrupt. In conversations interrupting is the worst sin of all. Try to eliminate it from your conversations. The NYU study supports what all of us already knew. Good listening makes for stronger relationships and strong relationships contribute to richer, fuller and longer lives.


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