Listening with your heart
“Are we responsible for trying to understand how we come across to others? Or are good intentions enough?”
All actions have consequences. Many great thinkers of the world tell us that when we act, we should do our best, while not worrying about consequences outside our control. We must act with pure motives, making the best choices we can without insisting on or forcing a certain outcome.
St. Augustine put it simply: “Love and do what you will.” The effort to communicate, however, is a bit different. If we have something we want to share with others, there are three parts to our equation. The first part is ourselves—namely, our own understanding of what we want to say. The second part is the other, the person or persons with whom we want to share. The third part is the “in between,” that is, the distance between our own inner reality and that of others. It is our own responsibility to attend to these aspects in order to have effective communication. We must first know what we want to say.
Then we must pay attention to how we speak. Finally, we have to realize that there can be interference of some kind between us, either from the inside or the outside.
When we want to say something important, we must ensure that we know the other party. “Making ourselves one,” meaning “to walk a mile in the other’s moccasins,” includes learning the language and characteristic ways of understanding that are natural to the other person. We can listen with our hearts and pay attention to the other person’s reactions to discover what they might be hearing. To speak to the other’s heart, we must know the other’s heart.
Pope Francis often highlights the need to listen to one another. He speaks of “listening with the ears of the heart.” This means truly attending to others when we try to dialogue. In his Message for the World Day of Social Communications on January 24, the Holy Father offered a suggestion to journalists that can also be applied to all relationships. “Listening is therefore the first indispensable ingredient of dialogue and good communication. Communication does not take place if listening has not taken place.”
There are many divisions in our world today. Some are due to differences in language and culture. Some come from religious disagreements. One evident today is a kind of generation gap. Older and younger generations have differing life experiences, and these have shaped a different understanding of the world around us. All such differences affect communication and mutual understanding.
Then, each of us is responsible for moving beyond mere intention in our actions and efforts to communicate. I must learn how to speak to you, and you must learn how to speak to me, so that we can both, together, help create the conditions where Jesus can be present.
Followers of St. Thomas Aquinas (known as the Scholastics), offer a principle which may be useful here: “Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” This implies that we are responsible for how we come across to others if we want to share truth with them.
There is a need for growth in our understanding of ourselves. Who we are cannot be reduced to our own interior self-understanding. The only one who knows us perfectly and completely is God. Due to our life experiences, we can grow up with misunderstandings about what God has placed within us. Our self-image can be flawed by wounds that come from suffering. These wounds can be healed when we open ourselves to others who can offer us a different perspective on ourselves.
Parents often see gifts in their children that their children haven’t yet discovered in themselves. New friends and deeper relationships, formed by hardships experienced together, draw out aspects previously hidden and undeveloped.
When we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of others, we discover that how we come across may be far different than what we sought to project. We may also find new depths and riches in the wonderful personalities that God has given to us. Good intentions are a start. But the followthrough requires more self-understanding and a greater openness to the needs of others. Loving the other leads to a greater capacity to know and love our true selves, drawing us into the love of the triune God.
Fr. Timothy Hayes
Pastor of the Diocese of Columbus,
offers answers on faith questions
together with a group of priests
who share the spirituality of unity
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