Do you feel that everyone deserves to be heard? Do you believe you can learn something from anyone? What about the people you disagree with? What about those persons whose practice or lifestyle is radically different from your own?
I do .
I’m launching a new part of my ministry in an effort to bridge the gap between people inside the Catholic Church and those outside. Let me be honest and upfront by saying that, of course, I do still have a mission to help reveal the Truth and beauty of the Catholic faith to the world. I don’t shy away from talking about the Catholic Church to anyone who is interested or willing to listen. However, I am going to make a big effort to extend that same act of love to those who are outside the Church. I always appreciate when a person is willing to openly discuss matters of faith and morals and share opinions, insights and experience. I am always eager to answer questions regarding the Catholic Church and my own journey to Christ. I’m open about my current and past struggles and I always enjoy sharing my story.
I’ve realized lately, though, that one of the things that sometimes keeps us faithful Catholic’s from enjoying open dialogue with others of differing beliefs (atheists, pro-choicer’s, same-sex marriage proponents, protestants.. etc) is the fact that we don’t often take the time to understand each other. We try and beat our beliefs into the other person and often one or both persons says something out of anger or frustration. The conversation might easily then be escalated to an angry battle where each person believes the louder or more insulting person will become the winner. I myself have been guilty of becoming frustrated or offended and sprinkling a bit of insult on top of logical arguments in order to get back at the other person. In fact, I’ve gotten a little more than heated at times and allowed anger to fuel my motivation for winning an argument. However, more often than not I am able to have a respectful conversation with someone who disagrees with me. Going forward I’m really trying to make an effort to ensure that I am having productive conversations with others – no matter who they are.
I realize this isn’t always going to be possible.
Some people are simply out for blood and won’t stop until they get it. This is true of people of all beliefs. I know atheists that just can’t stand that others believe in God. They break out into a barrage of insults and accusations if anyone dares mention that they believe in God. Christopher Hitchens once gagged during a debate with Dinesh D’Souza when Dinesh spoke of the love and generosity of Mother Teresa. On the opposite extreme we have seen people like the Westboro Baptist Church commit atrocious acts of hate and damn to hell those who disagrees with them (including other Christians). I am of the opinion that a very small percentage of the population fall into these extremes. Most people just have a hard time listening to others’ arguments or experience when it clashes with their own experience or worldview. It’s hard for people to listen to each other because each person has something to say – whether it be an opinion or a different experience – and feels that it is important for the other person to hear what they have to say. Person 1 says “Wait a second, just listen to me for a moment. It’s important” and then Person 2 says “No, no. Let me say something first”. Person 1 interrupts Person 2 to say “You’re not listening to me. Just shut up for a second”. This sort of back and forth continues with each person interrupting the other to comment or to refute something the other just said. Neither person listens to or considers the others argument. Both are only concerned with making their own point and forcing the other to agree. The result is that both persons are frustrated that the other didn’t see or understand their point and leaves the conversation having learned nothing from the other.
I have had this sort of fight with my wife before. We were discussing an issue that we both didn’t see eye-to-eye on. I repeated my argument many times over and found myself saying “You’re not listening to me. You just keep interrupting me to challenge what I’m saying before I’m finished saying it”. At one point in the conversation she was saying she didn’t feel like I was listening to her and then I realized that I interrupted her to say “No, you’re the one that’s not listening to me”. I couldn’t admit it during that moment but I knew that I was just as guilty of not listening. I thought to myself “how many times have I done that to someone who didn’t understand the Catholic faith the way that I do?”. How many times has someone been frustrated with me during a conversation because I was simply launching historical, statistical, logical and philosophy arguments at them and not making an effort to hear what the other person had to say?
I’m not saying you should just wait your turn to speak.
What if, instead of trying to make others see our point, we were more concerned with ensuring that they felt their opinion and experience mattered? What if each person in the conversation made an effort to really listen to the other person. If Person 1 says “Go ahead, I’m listening” and Person 2 say’s “No that’s okay, you were saying something first”. The result would be that both persons would feel as though they were heard. They would walk away from the conversation feeling like they learned something from the other but also that the other potentially learned something from them. When you are trying to tell someone something, especially if it concerns a sensitive issue, it can feel so unloving when the other person doesn’t seem to be interested in what you have to say. If you are confused or struggling with something that is weighing heavy on your heart it can be very frustrating when someone dismisses your thoughts and feelings. Women often have the complaint that when they try to talk to their husband about a particular struggle or problem the man immediately starts telling them how to fix their problem instead of just listening. The reason this can be upsetting is because listening is an act of love. Listening is a way of communicating to the other person that they are important and should be treated with a dignity of someone who is unique and unrepeatable. Listening to someone tells them “I am interested in You”. Listening is also an act of love because it requires putting someone else before yourself since most people like hearing themselves more than they like hearing others.
I am making an effort to do a greater job of listening. It doesn’t matter if you are a Catholic, Atheist, Pro-choice, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist or anything else I haven’t mentioned. You are a person that deserves to be heard and I want to listen. I am interested in You.
Feel free to make a YouTube video; write a blog about your story; tell me about your beliefs; tell me what you think about the Catholic Church or ask me a question about myself or my faith. I truly desire to hear from you.