The Risk of Listening

The words of wisdom this month on the calendar hanging next to my computer read, “what people really need is a good listening to.” Listening. It seems we talk about it a lot, which, I suppose, adds to the irony that we actually do it so rarely.

My wall calendar has caused me to wonder how often I offer others a ‘good listening to’. And when the voice of truth speaks, “not often enough”, I wonder about that. Why would I refuse another a good listening? What’s the risk?

And maybe that’s it. Listening is a risk. When I listen I might learn something I really don’t want to know, like how a friend treated a co-worker badly, or how the priest refused absolution to a friend, or how a family member is really hurting in an ignored situation. Of course, listening also means I run the risk of learning about me, like how I hurt someone when I made an off-hand remark, or how the attempts to hide my vulnerabilities cause consternation and make me behave as the person I do not want to be.

I can feel all sorts of things when I listen to another person – jealousy, fear, anger, powerless, frustrated, joy, peace, wonderment, awe. That is a risk to. Am I free enough to feel what I feel without cutting off the experience of the person who is sharing their story—no, their life, with me.

So, how might I accept the risk of listening? Who teaches me to listen? Well, those who listen to me, even those who do it poorly, teach me something about listening. Lady Mary models listening. She listens carefully and for a long time, holding what she hears in her heart. Her listening shapes her.

Then there is Jesus. He listens long, willingly, intimately. I have no doubt he feels many of the same things I feel when I listen, only more. Jesus transforms his listening into love, loving me. There is the risk: offering a good listening to another might mean I will be transformed into love, loving. Perhaps the risk of listening isn’t so scary after all.