As I walk through New York’s Lower East Side, there is a clear conversation. Sometimes it is a warning to be careful; potential danger is hiding just beyond one’s sight. On other occasions, it is mindless chatting; new bands are playing on Ludlow, a new restaurant opened on Orchid, and a great new shop on Rivington has items on sale. If one listens and understands, there is an open invitation to a conversation.
When I walk through other New York neighborhoods, I hear noise and feel the vibe. Most of the time, I have no idea what is being said. It is actually unnerving. The streets could be giving me a warning while I blissfully stroll into danger. The neighborhood could be inviting me to experience the wonder and texture of a unique community. Whatever the conversation is, I hear but I don’t hear with understanding.
There is a gap, waiting for understanding, compassion, and learning. The solution of everyone involved rarely moves to this gap naturally. The natural tendency in this situation is to talk louder. Parents end up talking louder, even yelling. Children find themselves shouting, even screaming. Frustration abounds! Pain emerges. A sense of being alone begins its journey.
A prophet of old fell into this trap. “Pay attention! Are you deaf? Open your eyes! Are you blind? You're my servant, and you're not looking! You're my messenger, and you're not listening! The very people I depended upon, servants of God, blind as a bat—willfully blind!” (Isaiah 42.18, 19) The words are true yet I am not sure they draw those involved to a solution.
I find myself drawn to a different way of responding. I can listen to conversations, seeking to understand first, followed by learning. I can remind others that I may not understand. I can ask for the patience. I can invite them into a relationship of teaching and learning, with myself playing the student as the start. If successful, hearing begins.
Today is a wonderful opportunity to learn; about each other and life. Let’s walk together, hearing, growing.
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