The heat index confirms that summer is still with us even though children, youth, teachers, and administrators have returned to school. Family schedules are adjusting. My neighborhood’s morning schedule has changed as commuters remind themselves to watch for kids crossing streets and waiting on the bus.
The last season of my sabbatical (July 15-August 16) was filled with travel, family, continuing education, and a bit of rest. But before that, June and July were a whirlwind of activity focused around the campers and volunteers of our summer camp program. This year, campers and counselors learned how peace works in their lives and the communities in which they live and move. The summer season ended with Mission Camp Road Show which visited Texas City, TX to help with ongoing Hurricane Harvey recovery. Oklahomans uniquely understand the longterm work of recovering from a natural disaster. Learn more about what the group did and how they represented the “Oklahoma standard” by visiting the Region’s website.
During my last season of sabbatical, I was reminded of the difference between listening to get through a conversation or situation, and listening to hear. That may seem like an odd description. It is the difference between thinking of your next reply in a conversation versus listening and absorbing what you are hearing from a person. Listen, thoughtful pause to organize a thought or two, and then respond. Listening is a skill.
When we begin to act by listening, the rest follows naturally. It’s not so easy, of course—it requires us to give up preconceived ideas, judgments, and desires in order to allow space to hear what is being said. True listening requires a deep respect and a genuine curiosity about situations as well as a willingness just to be there and share stories. Listening opens the space, allows us to hear what needs to be done in that moment. It also allows us to hear when it is better not to act, which is sometimes a hard message to receive.(1)
All the technology that is a part of life these days makes listening harder and sometimes easier. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook (just name dropping a few) give users the ability to share emotion and information faster, but does that mean we are listening to one another. Sometimes we simply use the latest tech megaphone to shout, shout, shout about . . . (fill in the blank). Complaining or throwing shade is easy via a device. How often do you compliment via a device?
How is your “FOMO” today? Do you have a fear of missing out? Is the idea of your favorite social media platform being offline a day or a week a gift or does it induce your favorite unconscious stress activity? Listen to yourself. Listen to yourself for a day or a week. What themes are you hearing in the posts you share or actual words you say out loud?
An experiment. Don’t post in your social media platforms for a week. Rather, listen to and through the words of people in the stream of your social media platforms. Keep a journal of those words, ideas, and feelings. What thoughtfully challenges your assumptions? What is intended to play on your emotion? What affirms your humanity and that of others? What is marketed to you?
I don’t think to be counter-cultural means “drop out.” We can, like Jesus did, take time away to recalibrate and rediscover how to be “hard on issues and soft, compassionate on people.”(2) . The tough part is to disassociate the issue from the person.
1. Mirabai Bush, “When Listening is the Most Radical Act.” gratefulness.org (August 29, 2019) [https://gratefulness.org/
2. A phrase used at the Mediation Training that I attended sponsored by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. “Hard on issues and soft on people” has been lost in our culture.