“Much of the anxiety which characterizes our lives today derives from the fact that we have nobody to listen to us, to hear us. We speak but are not heard.”
If you read this short sermon (and I hope you will), you will find another example of Rabbi Olan speaking directly to our times. Back on February 2, 1969 he described the good life as a dialogue. In order for people and societies to thrive, there must be a crucial give-and-take. We must listen to each other, and we must also feel like we are being heard.
In the 1960s, Olan noted that a culture of monologue had set in. Everyone had something to say. Few reciprocated by listening. Many people felt they were too busy to listen to each other in a deep, meaningful way. Others wanted to listen, but struggled unsuccessfully to overcome long-established barriers to understanding- race, class, gender, generational, religious, and political differences.
Now, in the 21st century, the speaking-but-not-listening trend has grown to crisis level in the United States. Almost everyone has learned to turn a deaf ear to viewpoints other than their own. When people feel that others are not listening, what do they do? They raise their voices to make the other person (or side) hear. But increasing the volume does not create better listening. Instead, the recipient either responds in kind (with raised voice) or backs off to a more comfortable space. The only thing that is really communicated in this tragic cycle is disdain for the other.
How far have you backed away from your friends, families, and co-workers in the past decade? If we want to repair the breach, it will take time and effort. First, remember that people are more than their causes. (Please claim that for yourself!) Then, begin listening carefully to an estranged other, with genuine interest and real concern for them, and without trying to correct their views. This can validate the person without validating their ideas. Those who feel that they have been heard are in a better position to hear others. Are you willing to give it a try?
Recommended reading: High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley (2021).
*Written by Tim Binkley*