#YouWillNeverHearMeSay is trending on Twitter right now–or at least it was five minutes ago. Here’s the thing, though. You might.
There’s something I noticed about six months ago, which is layered on top of something I noticed about four years ago. The four-years-ago thing is that I’m pretty sure 100% of people (that includes me, in case you thought I was an exceptionalist and even worse at math than I am) have to learn to listen well. That is–we are not born good listeners. Some people have a greater aptitude for learning this vital skill, perhaps, but it is not a default for anybody.
The six-months-ago thing I noticed, though, is that not only are none of us good listeners by default, but many of us are actually anti-listeners. That is, we hear the noise in our own heads as if it came out of the other person’s mouth. We hear what we expect. Frequently it comes down to whether we are inclined (for good, bad, or zero reasons) to like or dislike whoever is talking.
One Sunday (about six months ago), I was preaching, as I typically do on Sundays these days. I don’t remember which sermon it was, but in the sermon, I said something like, “I’m not making a statement of value here about other faiths than Christianity, but it is not true to say that ‘all religions are the same.'” Then I went on to talk about some relevant-to-the-rest-of-the-sermon distinctives of the faith held by most of the people in the room, to support my statement.
After the service, a pleasant young man from out of town who had visited a few times with his young family approached me enthusiastically. “I just have to say,” he said, “I really appreciated what you had to say today–about how all religions are really the same!”
I was left to conclude that this young man was inclined to feel favorably toward me for whatever reason (possibly because I had a rapport with his wife and little daughter) and so interpreted what came out of my mouth as being what he wanted to hear. I suspect if, for some reason, he had instead taken a strong dislike to me, I could have said something more palatable and he would have heard the opposite in that case, too. But I don’t think this was a quirk of this young man. I think we humans do this all the time–in our places of worship, in our families, in our politics. I know I catch myself doing it.
So while it may be true that there are some things I would never say, first of all, I’m not sure what they are at the moment, and second, I can’t promise you will never hear me say them. You might, if you’re inclined to think I would.
Lent’s coming up. I think I’m going to try really hard to give up my preconceived ideas about people enough to listen to them well. It might be the hardest Lenten “fast” I’ve ever done (or a close second to not-saying-mean-things-about-Starbucks-customers), but it seems worth trying. Who’s with me? We can support each other (and practice together!) in an Online Spiritual Conversation Group. Let me know in the comments, or contact me.