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The importance of listening

Anthony Cleary
Anthony Cleary
Anthony Cleary is the director of religious education and evangelisation for Sydney Catholic Schools.
Image: Freepik.com

Rather than silencing others we should hear what they think about the things that are important to them

A recurring theme of the Bible is the importance of ‘listening’. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God implores: ‘Hear o’ Israel’.

This appeal, and the wisdom shared, was not intended for one religious tribe but for all of humanity. God’s Word changes lives. It refreshes and renews and restores our relationships with others.

However, not everyone hears the word of God for it sometimes falls on deaf ears. Jesus himself was acutely aware of this, and this influenced his manner of teaching: ‘I speak to them in parables because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand’ (Matt 13:13). He often ended his teachings, ‘he who has ears to hear, ought to hear’ (Luke 14:35).

Jesus’ concerns echoed those of the prophets before him, and they remain as true today as they were two thousand years ago.

In the busyness of life some people are consumed by competing priorities, surrounded by frenetic activity and a cacophony of noise.

With these distractions and the absence of tranquility, they are unable to truly receive, discern and respond to the Word of God in their lives, and they are the poorer for it.

While some people are not conscious of or attentive to the Word of God in their lives, others choose to block it out, perhaps uncomfortable with the challenges it presents.

Throughout the Scriptures, we are reminded of the need to be open and receptive to God’s call: ‘If today you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Heb 3:15). Invariably, if we harden our hearts, this not only cuts us off from God, but from other people in our lives.
Our Christian discipleship is premised upon our love of God and neighbour. Our capacity to develop our relationships with both is largely dependent upon our commitment to listening to them. Just as the Scriptures reveal that people struggle to truly hear the Word of God, the same is often true of people’s interactions with family, friends and strangers.

Sadly, our communication with others often resembles a ‘one-way’ street, and it would appear that the art of ‘true listening’ is in danger of being lost. All too often we give lip-service to respecting the opinions of others.

People have convinced themselves that arguments are won [not] on merit … but on who can shout the loudest or the longest …” – Anthony Cleary

In our current society, there is little tolerance for divergent views. Instead, there is an aggressive push for cultural conformity, and those who contest this are stigmatised and marginalised. People have convinced themselves that arguments are won – not on the merit of the case or the plausibility of the proposition – but on who can shout the loudest or the longest, or who can silence the other.

Rather than silencing others, we must listen to others. The freedom to express opinions and contest ideas is not just a fundamental human right that helps us grow, it also strengthens our relationships with others and our society as a whole. Listening not only shows a respect of others, but a respect of self.

As the school year for 2022 came to a close, Sydney Catholic Schools facilitated listening assemblies with its students to explore issues relating to ‘respect’. These assemblies were part of the 10:10 project and were designed to give students an opportunity to help shape the direction of the program. The feedback from students was invaluable. Importantly, the structure and processes of the gatherings gave the students confidence that their concerns and opinions would be heard.

The opportunity to meet with and listen to young people is critical. Rather than engaging them in processes which have predetermined outcomes we need to ensure that our gatherings are relevant and meaningful and provide an experience of mutual and respectful dialogue. If done well, these occasions can help empower young people, and strengthen their faith and their love of the Church.

Pleasingly, our recent gatherings, especially the student leadership forum with Archbishop Anthony, were occasions where they not only got to speak and but also to listen.
Hopefully, as they journey through life they may imitate the example of the young Samuel: ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’

Related:

Anthony Cleary: The power of World Youth Day

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