Friday, September 16, 2011

Take the time to listen

        Yesterday afternoon a number of faculty and students gathered to discuss "The Constitution, the Budget and Morality."  The two faculty presenters came from very different starting points: one focusing on the issues of consensus and the social contract, the other on differing theories of economics.  They weren't necessarily at odds, but the perspectives were quite different.  They did agree, however, that we as a body politic have lost sight of "consensus" and that "consent" (of the people) doesn't imply uniformity or agreement.   One of the outcomes of the discussion was a pretty palpable desire (in the room) for a return to conversation about issues, not vitriolic debates.*
       Conversation, however, takes time.  And in our "hurry-up" life-style, time "is of the essence".  Or is it?
       In our rush to conclusions, do we miss the nuances that are inevitable when dealing with human beings?   Do we discount another's humanity simply because we disagree with their points-of-view-and trying to hear them takes too much time?  A study recently has suggested that the speed at which children's show "Spongebob Squarepants" shifts scenes (say that three times fast!) begins to take a toll on a child's ability to learn and memorize.  Is faster always better?  Well, no.
      We want results, and we want them now.  And if we don't get what we want, we shift brands, or "throw da bums out" at the next election.  We don't really want to spend the time to understand; it's often hard work.  But, in the context of another person's thinking, understanding is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.  Sitting, listening, being.  We may not come to agreement.  That's okay.  Most of us don't always agree with the people we love the most.  Should we expect complete agreement with anyone else?
       I appreciate the advice given by Jesuit scientist/theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to a young friend:  

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.  We are all, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.  We should like to skip the intermediate stages.  We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new, and yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability -- an that it may take a long time. **

His advice to a young man seeking his way in life is also a good reminder to us that we might want to engage in the "slow work" of understanding -- which I might argue is the work of God. 


*  The entire conversation can be heard here.  The file is found on the right side of the page.
**  The passage/letter in its entirety can be found here.

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