Listen, Will You?

How hard can it be to listen?

As a parish priest, I eventually learned that not everyone who comes to see me wants to hear what I have to say to them. At first I thought people were coming to gain the benefit of my experience (back when I actually had none!). But it soon dawned on me that many people who see a priest aren’t actually looking for solutions; they’re just looking for someone who will listen to them. And so I have learned to simply sit quietly and let the person pour out whatever is troubling them. It can be a remarkably effective method of counselling!

But on reflection there is something more than a little sad about this. I often get the feeling that people who come to be listened to by Abouna have no one else in their lives who will listen to them. Are we really that isolated from each other these days?

At this point I should point out that there is a difference between hearing and listening (yes, I stole that from ‘Sounds of Silence’). Most people have no problem hearing someone else speak. But they will often want to jump in and make their own comment; suggest a simple solution that the speaker was clearly too stupid to think of for themselves, or worse still, start talking about their own problems. Ask the listener what the speaker said, and all you will get is a blank stare, or one or two unimportant details. This kind of ‘hearing’ isn’t very helpful.

Listening, on the other hand, means to actually pay attention, to be genuinely interested, to forget your own world for a little while and really enter into the mind and world of the speaker. This kind of listening is surprisingly rare in our society today. And more’s the pity.

We have little trouble losing ourselves in a good novel or an exciting movie, but when it comes to a real live flesh-and-blood person sitting in front of us – well, how can they compete? Especially if that real person happens to be someone close to you, like a member of your family. How could a family member possibly be interesting? Why should I waste my time listening to his/her drivel about some boring incident that happened at the supermarket?

Love.

That’s why.

Love means to go out of yourself, to escape the dingy little prison of the ego. I am an incredibly limited being, yet my sense of my own importance in the world is always greatly exaggerated. But love tells me that other people are important too. And interesting. How can anyone not be interested in other human beings? They are such amazing creatures! Even the dullest among them has some emotion, some paradox, some wisdom, some experience, some thought, some foible that can set off a whole line of contemplation and curiosity. Sometimes you agree with others, and other times you don’t, but both situations are really quite interesting. Why did I agree or disagree? Where does the right and wrong of the matter really lie?

But there is more to be gained from taking a genuine interest in others than just curiosity. There is connection. So many people today feel so isolated and alone, even though they live in the middle of a metropolis of millions. They meet thousands of people every day, on the roads, the footpaths, the shops, at work or school – and yet, they never really connect with any of them. Their dealings are superficial and efficient, but there is little warmth, little genuine interest in each other. And then, at the end of the day, they feel so lonely. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Take the time to stop and have a chat with someone today. Better still, get them talking, and then just sit there and really listen…

Fr Ant

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2 Replies to “Listen, Will You?”

  1. God bless you father you are spot on …you raised one of the main problems of the world after food and shelter in my personal opinion ….Acceptance and trust among people and communities and even nations are no more there …people in the same country are not accepting one another and fighting against each other , even nations against one another ,individuals at all levels and families in the same house are not accepting and trusting one another , it is lack of love as our Lord said that it will occur as one of the main signs of the beginning of end …….communication breakdown everywhere no more active listening and no more that effort of the person to be understood rather to understand …no more patience and no more time and frankly no more the good Samaritan , everything is calculated in cents and dollars , oh my God it is terrible !!!!!Few years ago i decided with the help of God that one day a week i serve from my own time one of those big charitable organizations in this part of the world … it is really a great cause …my work is to sit in my office and get one by one of those least brothers to hear their concerns and issue vouchers of maximum 60 dollars and free vouchers for medications scripts depends on the case ..all walks of life used to come from all backgrounds even our own background Sudanese and Egyptians and i could not believe it, most of them they used to say we do not have anybody to talk and asked can we talk ??!! truly you said it father that people are isolated just they need to talk and steam off and somebody actively listening to their concerns !!!!!it is really a problem which i believe is escalating most of the psychological and mental problems around …..it is certainly a great blessing to sit there and actively listen and let those least steam off ….ya isolation is one of the biggest social problems around ….i believe part of the role of the churches besides spirituality also social and development of the human being and specially those least ….our Lord said it clearly that those least have to be looked after …..

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  2. Besides to be a good listener ,i believe seek first to understand ….it involves that the person becomes more interesting in understanding others and less having other people understand him ..it means an effective communication and with less effort to get through the others …if we reverse this process that you try to be understood before you understand , it will not be sound and effective way of communication and it needs a lot of effort to get across the others ….so we can not put the cart before the horse …ya truly Effective communication is very important in our daily life as it improves the quality of our life , relationships and work ….may our Lord give us the patience and the wisdom to be better active listeners and seek first to understand …may our Lord activate our Churches in this part of the world to enhence our faith and deeds ….may our Lord enhance our ability to reach those least and isolated in our Australian Coptic community in this part of the world and see them sitting in the front seats of our churches enjoying the word of God …. may the Lord enhance and strengthen our deeds …. over alll may the holy spirit guide us allll , amen ….CHRISTOS ANESTY , ALYTHOS ANESTY , AMEN …..Happy Easter to all …so wonderful was our local church at Mt Drruitt this year and as usual during the lent and the holy Pascha ….it is great to see such great love , respect and team work among the priests and the deacons and the congregation , God Bless ….

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