Me. I can talk about 'me' for hours on end. If somebody doesn't tell me to cork it, I might do just that. Do I talk about myself because that is all I know? What does it stem from? Why do I talk about myself so much? Is it a need to seek approval? Is it because I think what I have to say is more important than whatever you have to say? Or, maybe it's because I don't know how to ask intelligent questions and so I proceed to ramble on about myself in hopes that nobody realizes that I cannot bring myself to stop and listen to others. Perhaps it is all of the above. Perhaps I need to just be quiet and listen, without any agenda. Perhaps in all of the noise that come out of my mouth, I simply find myself meandering about, with no direction and no destination in mind.
You. I don't know who you are. I might care about what you have to say - but if I don't find any similarities between us, I might just lose interest and turn away. I might think to myself that whatever occupies your mind isn't as profound or intelligent as what occupies mine. I might deem you unworthy of my attention, unworthy of my time. O how sinful I am! This is how I can be sometimes. I may not always be like this, but nothing I have written so far is false. I came into the Raleigh Fellows program wanting to know more about God; needing to grow closer to Him. I had not known it at the time, but it has become apparent that He is working in me, teaching and training me to be a person who listens, and listening well demands silence first.
Many a time, I have been told that I need to listen more. 'The words go into one ear and out the other; I have a complete disregard for others' opinions.' Many a time, I have dismissed these wise words, on the grounds that they are weak. Evidently, pride had a tight grip around me then (it still does to this day, but perhaps a little looser). I have come to realize that I regard nothing higher than the absolute truth, and anything that stands in its way is meandering and serpentine. Sometimes, other people's opinions latched onto the wrong side of what I hold to be the truth, and I almost always tell them that they are mistaken (often not in a nice way).
Maybe it was easier for me to tell someone that they were wrong. Maybe it was easier to not have to confront my own ideals and beliefs, but instead relegate others' to the discard pile. It's always easier to not have to change what you believe - to just let the status quo be. One thing that I have learnt over the years, though, is that we must always be alert to when we have to choose between what is right, and what is easy. What I can say with certainty is that my inclination to disregard other's ideas was absolutely not the right way to approach life. I was told more recently by a wise man that even if I am right in certain situations, it is not worth damaging the relationships in my life to prove that I am in fact right. The importance of the people in your life must be placed above that of 'who won the argument'.
We. Given the gift of community, we must not forget to regard the 'unity'. I remember very clearly J. John's words: "Mean what you say, and say what you mean, but don't say it mean!" For me to dismiss the words of others, and care only about what I have to say and what I have to contribute, is ultimately a very selfish trait. But to pour oil on the fire and speak in a nasty and mean manner is unacceptable. And yet I find myself doing that, both knowingly and unknowingly, in group settings on many occasions. Through times of silence and solitude, I have found that it is exactly silence and solitude that have been largely missing from my life, and a chief cause of why I am quick to speak, and slow to listen.
Do not be fooled. I hear every word and remember them quite clearly, but it is exactly this pride in my 'listening' ability that qualifies me as a non-listener. Listening is so much more than just registering the words that are coming out of another's mouth. It is visual, emotional, and spiritual. You can hear every word of someone's sentence and still miss the true meaning behind their speech. What God has been (and will undoubtedly continue) teaching me is the importance of silence. In the silence we learn to speak. I need to learn to listen, so that I may speak. Henri Nouwen puts it aptly: "A word with power is a word that comes out of silence... A word that is not rooted in silence is a weak, powerless word that sounds like a "clashing cymbal or a booming gong" (1 Corinthians 13:1)".
My prayer is that I find myself in more silences, so that I may listen more, and thus speak to encourage more than to tear down. Compassion and love stem from the silence, that much is clear. I desire more of that - there's no room for meandering.