By Kenneth Justice
~ Awhile back I got into a lengthy discussion with a young man who sat down at my table; he couldn’t understand why I would want to talk to the various strangers and acquaintances who sit down at my table here at the café;
“I simply don’t get it Kenneth, they talk about a million different things and I’ve listened to you interact with some of them and I honestly have no desire to listen to them talk about the s**t they talk about” he said
“So what do you want to talk about?” I asked
“My life, I want to talk about the things that matter to my own life, I don’t care about the stupid kinds of music these people listen to or what movie they saw last Friday….all I care to talk about is the things that are related to me!” he said
To be honest, while I don’t think this young man represents everyone in Western Culture, I do believe there are quite a few people out there who think the way he does; they are only interested in discussing subjects related to themselves and when the topic isn’t something they like they either tune-out or take-off.
This particular young man is someone I have talked with a few times in the past and by now I’ve gotten a pretty good picture of his life; he doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. Perhaps I’m wrong but I suspect this young man’s attitude is representational of a lot of people who don’t have very many friends; they are a little bit too focused on themselves;
—-) Some people would rather spend the majority of their days holed up in their living room watching television than getting out of the house and interacting with others
—-) Some people would rather have no friends than have to listen to other people talk about things that they don’t care about very much
—-) Some people are so obsessed with talking about themselves that they turn other people off and repel people from becoming their friends
A few years ago the minister of a local church approached me to ask my opinion as to why they didn’t seem to be experiencing any growth in membership whatsoever;
“well pastor, I’ve only visited your church a couple times but it seems like you and your parishioners only seem to talk about the things that you care about; I get the feeling that you are ignoring the needs of the people in your city because none of you are listening to anyone outside of your church” I said
Of course, while I was impressed that he asked me my opinion…two years went by and each time I ran into the pastor it became apparent that no real change ever took place in their church.
For many of us this topic of listening to others seems rather trite; ‘isn’t this something we learned to do as children?’ is what many of us are probably thinking. Yet nonetheless, learning how to connect with others is perhaps one of the big issues facing Western Culture in our day-and-age. Everywhere we turn we hear about people who are lonely, feeling isolated, feeling disconnected, feeling overwhelmed with technology and yet starved for human companionship.
One of the reasons I write about this subject so often is because I was raised in a church culture that was more focused on ‘us preaching at people’ instead of ‘us listening to people’. Because it wasn’t until my late twenties that I was able to finally begin clearing my head of the mindset that I was reared in; I have to live with the regret of many wasted years in which I argued with people, preached at people, and tried to ramrod my opinions down the throats of others……..rarely a day goes by that I don’t recall some sad memory of me being an a**hole when I was younger. It took me a long time to finally see that Jesus was first-and-foremost; a good listener, he took the time to understand where people were coming from.
Learning to listen is a lot like learning to love; it requires a sacrifice on our part to put our own desires behind the needs of others. Is there part of me that would love to sit around and give lectures all day long; sure….I am every bit as human as the next person. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of life; most people don’t need me to give them a lecture…they need me to love them and listen.
One of the biggest barriers in my life when it comes to my being able to love others is the trivial things I tend to whine about. If I’m not careful, it’s easy for me to get distracted by a client who was rude to me, relatives who are annoying…..or any number of silly little things that I tend to fret about. But when it comes down to it; the struggles I am going through seem so trite compared to the real-life issues that others are grappling with;
—) I’m not a single-mother who is overwhelmed with the responsibilities of her life
—) I’m not an alcoholic whose family has abandoned me because of my addiction
—) I’m not a person who is isolated from their friends and family
—) I wasn’t raped by a relative when I was younger and now have to work through the psychological effects of the incident
Thus, when I compare my own problems and needs against the issues that other people are dealing with; my problems seem so small and insignificant. Why the bloody hell do I need to talk when my time could be so much better spent listening to people who need someone to simply be there for them?
Is it really that hard to listen to someone tell you what kind of music they enjoy listening to or what movie they saw last Friday night? Besides, it helps that I’m usually sitting at a café and always have a nice cup of coffee to sip as we’re talking…..which reminds me, I think it’s time for another cup.