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On Listening

“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” – Greg Boyle, SJ

I often marvel at the experiences that my students and some colleagues share with me privately. Whether it’s when I’m providing simple pastoral care and presence or a more formal relationship in spiritual direction or in a retreat setting, I’m often overwhelmed by listening to all they carry. My standard line is:

“When I hear what people are secretly carrying around with them, I stand in awe that they are walking and talking, never mind working and getting a degree here!”

This is Fr. Boyle’s call to us as well. But his call, runs far past the usual boundaries that we place on ourselves. Many of us are called to listen to those near us and not too few of us are also called to travel to the ends of the earth to do service projects of various types. Some even dedicate a year of their life in service to some of the neediest populations. But we are also called to listen to the voices that are not so far away. The working poor in our midst are often ignored and under-served and many times we are too afraid to take a single step towards them. We often find those folks hidden away in soup kitchen corners by themselves, lonely and alone, perhaps merely because they just ran out of money at the end of the month. Some are elderly and indignant, losing their independence only recently, when children move away or a spouse dies.

There are plenty of groups to outside from our experience. This past election left many of us with scrambled thoughts. How could anyone vote for Donald Trump? To be honest, I’ve had those thoughts myself. People I respect, who mostly voted for him because of their own racism (some) or their distaste of big government (an interesting dichotomy considering the many government interventions he would like to initiate), or their pro-life stance, are often individuals who I can easily downshift into the discard pile. Ignoring their views, discounting their experience.

I compared the experience of Donald Trump’s election with the election of Pope Benedict XVI yesterday. A Pope that I would not have picked and that I could not imagine that anyone had voted for. We can all too easy create a larger divide with our hatred for “the other side” than with a desire for dialogue and understanding. The loyal opposition starts with words that lend compassion with that said loyalty. Often we make people who disagree with us into people that we deem “too hard to love.”

I learned a lesson in taking some time for hard reflection during those early days of his papacy. That lesson was to pray, soldier on with my own personal commitments, but also to listen to others. I found that the more conservative amongst us often had good reasons for their convictions. Perhaps their conclusions were different from mine, but most often we could and did talk about those differences in a civil and non-threatening way. I made some good friends along the way with whom I often could not agree on the time of day at certain points and at other times, we informed each other well and adjusted our own prejudices appropriately.

In short, we were church. We included each other in conversation and the factions that we too often represented won some and lost some. We slugged it out and some days we were left bruised, but we saw each other as human beings mired in the struggle of daily existence, trying to make it through the day. It often made us sad to see friends hurting from experiences that formed their opinions and even changed our hearts and minds on some issues. We became more sensitive, without becoming less convicted of our values, but perhaps more willing to stay in conversation to make sure that all of our needs were served in some capacity.

This may be a message that Democrats and Republicans need to hear. These days it seems that politicians on opposite sides of the aisle can’t even drink together anymore. How might we best invite that change into our midst? By doing that ourselves!

Today, take some time for the person you agree with the least. Have a lunch, address some thoughts, dig deep on how you got to your convictions and most of all, be patient in judgement.

The problem is that usually one party or the other is simply unwilling to listen to the other.

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