Lunch dates are almost always a pleasurable break from the grind of the work day. A chance to connect with people you like and enjoy is rare. The pace of everyday living does not always allow time to get together with people you like when you have to play taxicab for two hours after work. While the point of these get togethers is conversation and communication – sometimes organizing the time and place for a rendezvous gets misunderstood and you end up at Tutto’s and they land at The Wild Hare. Ironically you find that you have not really listened.
Basic high school biology pretty clearly lays out what the hearing process is like physically. There are these stirrups, drums and bones that all pretty miraculously get us from sound waves to receiving, to understanding. Listening on the other hand is a lot more complicated.
Trips to the store are a lesson in listening. Volunteering to pick up something desperately needed for the evening meal and coming back with the wrong things does not play well. There really is a rather large difference between rigatoni and rice when you’re eating Chinese. Stir-fried rigatoni may be a new articulation of Italian eating, but trying out fusion cuisine on an eight year-olds tastes ain’t gonna cut it.
Schedules with many busy families get thrown into chaos if you aren’t listening. Logistics and moving bodies from point A to B to C illustrates the point. This is Wednesday, Johnny’s at basketball and has choir at church and confirmation later. You go to the middle school, wait and wait – and no Johnny – and then remember because you didn’t track well that morning, that you were to get him a drive-thru at McDonald’s, pick him up at the high school today instead, because of a replayed Snow Day game and then to the pastor’s house for a pot-luck which he may be late for anyway. So its expletive deleted and drive 60 down 15th street hoping the police are involved with an accident on the other side of town.
If listening to and making sure that day to day events flow smoothly can so easily get confused, what happens when we don’t attend to more basic issues. I’ve known people that drive themselves till they literally drop – failing to listen to the hammering headaches, upset stomachs, and skin rashes that signal systems on overload. Likewise there are those that focus their energies in ways that ensure success but disengage them from friends and family, leaving them alone.
Listening to oneself is probably the hardest thing any of us will ever do. It involves a clear picture of limits, capabilities and our own values. The kind of schedule we set for ourselves and the commitments we make set the rhythm of our days. If our lives are structured in ways that allow time for quiet, time for eavesdropping on our own internal cadences, we then begin to hear different things. Perhaps then that extra meeting or catching up on work at the office or at home becomes a little less important.
When a person is not listening he’s only responding – allowing events to dictate how his or her life will be. Real listening pulls things back to the center – where we can decide how life might be.