So many words. Who is really listening?

Listening - FDR Memorial

There has been so much going on in the world over the last few weeks. Gaza. Israel. Ukraine. MH 17. Iraq. Syria. Nigeria. Nauru. I’ve found myself in the paradoxical position of feeling lost for words … and yet wanting to say so much.

But when I scroll through my facebook or twitter feeds I see link after link to articles and opinion pieces and blog posts. So much virtual ink being spilled. So many words. So many people speaking.

It makes me wonder.

Who is listening?

Certainly not the people commenting on many of the opinion pieces or blog posts I have read. Mostly they seem to be talking past each other, in a hurry to accuse each other of being on the wrong side, or of saying or thinking the wrong thing.

So many strong opinions. So many assumptions that one comment made implies a whole host of other opinions and positions. So many implications that there are only two sides to an issue and one is completely right and the other completely wrong. So many black and white pronouncements. So many accusations.

Yes, I have informed opinions about what is going on in Gaza. Yes, I have strong feelings about what is happening to the Christians in Iraq and how it is (or isn’t) being portrayed in the mainstream media. Yes, I have thoughts about the shooting down of MH 17 and how our country has responded to it. Yes, I have passions about how the Australian government is talking about and treating refugees arriving by boat. Yes, I am still concerned about the missing kidnapped girls in Nigeria and violence against women everywhere. Yes, I could go on.

I could write post after post about each of those situations. I have tried to educate myself about each of them. I have some experience with the issues involved in some of them. I hope I bring a thoughtful, theological perspective to bear on them.

But before I say another word about them, I have two questions. One is for you and the other is for me.

First, to you. Would you listen? Would you really listen to me? Or would you use what I said to judge me and pigeonhole me and decide whether I am on “your side” of an issue or not? Would I simply confirm what you already think, or lead you to dismiss my thought processes because you have already decided you disagree with my conclusion? Is there any chance that something I say could change how you think about these situations? Because if there isn’t, you cannot hear me.

Second, to me. Have I really listened? Before I speak, have I taken every opportunity to really hear those who are directly affected by the situations the rest of us are opining about? Because I fear that what I see too often is people like me, people in comfortable, wealthy, educated, privileged positions, pontificating about situations in which real people are suffering. How many of them have I listened to? I mean really listened to. How many of them have I greeted by name, sat down with, and genuinely sought to hear?

I was wondering the other day how different the internet would be if there was a rule that you could only write a blog post or an opinion piece about a situation in the world if you were actually on a first name basis with a real person living in that situation and had listened to what they have to say. No doubt that’s an idealistic, unworkable idea, but it’s one that challenges me and keeps me asking questions rather than making statements.

The apostle James spoke these words of wisdom nearly two thousand years ago.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

What would it look like for us to listen, really listen, to these words in the way we respond to the crises around our world? Do you think perhaps it could somehow make a difference?

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13 thoughts on “So many words. Who is really listening?

  1. Melinda
    I listen to you. I read your blogs because I know you and I know that you are more informed about the issues that you write about than I am. I take notice of your opinions because you have a similar life style and background to me and I trust that your opinions are well based. I thank you for taking the trouble to research the issues and present your thoughts. I don’t have the capacity for this ‘work’ that you do – so you make a difference to my understanding of the issues. At least I can then respond – in prayer, in sharing opinions with others, in deciding where my efforts (& money) & my voice go towards helping the people in those situations. Please keep going with what you do.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement Julie! I’m not at all considering not blogging 🙂 but it is good to ask myself questions about what the purpose is and I’m particularly challenged by what it would look like to make sure I really listen before/or twice as much as/ I speak!!

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  2. Good thoughts Melinda. I’m one of many who’re posting articles and posts to my various social media outlets. I’m also observing that there are some topics I’m hearing about a lot but some that I’m not hearing about at all. e.g. I’m seeing a tremendous amount about the persecution of Christians in Iraq from my Christian networks but nothing about the Palestinians from these same people.

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    1. Thanks Jon. Your comment is really interesting, as I have a couple of Facebook friends who have been complaining that everyone is talking about Palestine and no one about the Christians in Iraq!
      Mark Scott (ABC) gave an excellent talk at Rethinking Conference earlier this year and noted that the fragmentation of media can lead to people (Christians in particular) operating in “echo chambers” where they only engage with particular perspectives and particular issues. I wonder how much that shapes our perceptions of what we are hearing?

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  3. Great blog Melinda. I feel that really listening is foundational to so many things. It reduces conflict. Deepens relationships. Builds friendships. Deepens understanding. Overcomes fears and racism. ..and so much more. I am convinced that a commitment to listen and understand others is fundermental to sharing faith. Learning what it means to really listen to others, especially those who hold different views to mine, is a primary focus for me at the moment. I suspect it is a life long journey 🙂 Thanks again for your blog. It is a much needed reminder for us all.

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