I’m glad our constitution guarantees to each of us our freedom of speech. That guarantee is stated in the first amendment to our constitution. It occurs to me however, that while we are guaranteed free speech, we are not guaranteed that anyone is listening. We are not promised an audience. We are not promised that our free speech will not fall on deaf ears.
Speaking is one thing. Listening is quite another. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If an orator delivers a speech that no one hears, did he really say anything?
Maybe speech can be legislated or even silenced. But can you legislate listening? Well, we have all heard the term “captive audience” but I don’t think even the required presence of potential listeners guarantees actual listening, guarantees that the speaker is actually “heard.” I know this for a fact as I experience this phenomenon on a daily basis in the high school classrooms where I work. (well did work back when schools were open)
Physical presence does not mean listening is taking place. In the classroom there are many signs that the message is not being received. The most obvious one is the headphones worn by students, less obvious are the earbuds but the result is the same – the teacher’s words have been tuned out. Students looking at their phones or texting is another sign that listening is not happening.
Why is listening on my mind today? Well, with so many people speaking, I am wondering who is left to do the listening? It’s like everyone is on the podium and there is no one in the audience. Speakers assume there are listeners. But maybe rather than their speech falling on “deaf ears,” it is falling on “no ears.”
Or maybe speakers realize there are just a few listeners to go around, so that’s why they attempt to shout down or silence as many other voices as they can, thereby increasing their chances to be heard. We are told the protesters/rioters are doing what they are doing in order to be “heard.” What are the burned out buildings, the broken glass and the profane graffiti saying to us? It’s hard to listen when you’re busy cleaning up the messes left behind, trying to pick up the pieces, while worrying about what happens next.
There’s no time for listening when you’re busy just trying to survive the damage, the violence, the lack of peace and find a way forward each day. And yet, in James 1:19-26 we are told something important about listening,
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. . . . Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. . . . If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
I confess, I feel like I too often speak without having listened, truly listened. I am quick to speak, slow to listen. I want to reverse that – I want to be slow to speak but quick to listen. I want to be quick to listen to my Heavenly Father and quick to listen to other people.
This is in line with God’s commands to love Him and then to love others as ourselves. When we love someone we want to hear what they have to say. We become good listeners in an effort to connect with them. I can show my care and concern for others by listening to what they have to say.
That’s why I long to hear God’s voice everyday, I want to know what He’s thinking about so many things – about what’s going on in this world, what He wants me to be doing about it today, what words He would have me to speak (if any) – I want to listen to Him because I want to know Him better and understand Him more.
And that’s why I am called to listen to other people – in order to know them better and to understand them more. Maybe that’s why things are so noisy, so chaotic, so painful and so purposeless right now, because everyone is shouting, making demands, making statements about where they stand and no one has heard a word, no one has truly heard a heart – because there is no one left to listen.
Today, with God’s help I will practice the words of Psalm 46:10,
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
“Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)
sincerely, Grace Day