SEP 10 A TRAVELLER'S TALES - BY A WAYFARER
10 Is anybody listening?
I have to admit to a pet irritation. When anyone says “I hear what you are saying”, it frequently means “I hear a sound but am ignoring the words!” It is the response from a person who isn’t really listening, whose mind is already made up - and closed.
In a common caricature of the English abroad it is suggested that in order to make ourselves understood we simply speak our own language v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and VERY LOUDLY! By doing so, regardless of any language barrier, any foreigner will surely understand what we are saying. Of course, it’s not rocket science to know that is nonsense. However, I seriously wonder how many of us really take the trouble to think through how we actually communicate to others, or indeed more seriously, how we listen to other people.
I recall an excellent object lesson on this subject, during a Church service some years ago. The preacher wrote down a message on a piece of paper, rolled it into a tight ball, then using a long tube as a blowpipe blew it with some force straight at me. Of course, it stung! He then went on to say “Well, I’ve delivered my message - how do you feel about it?” I don’t need to draw you a diagram, but am sure you will all get the point.
In June 1995, I became caught up in a significant demonstration outside the Government Offices in the Plaza de Congreso in Buenos Aires. It was significant - and noteworthy - on several counts. It may have been 13 years since the disastrous Falklands War, but wounds were still raw and the economic consequences still impacting on everyone.
To begin with, the demonstration had been instigated by the “Jubilados” - pensioners (mostly public service) of Argentina, who had received no pension for many months due to the severe financial crisis facing the country at that time. They congregated every Wednesday in the Plaza de Congreso to make their protest in a very dignified manner. But they lacked political ‘clout’ and the government having left them in the lurch, ignored them.
However, others decided to climb on their bandwagon and had hijacked the demonstration. Students - always a very vocal and volatile section of society - were also becoming increasingly disaffected and angry. Many University courses were in disarray as Professors and Tutors had also not been paid and had gone on strike. Banners - including the inevitable placards of Che Guevara (an Argentinean) - were in abundance as were drums and loud chants. But the government still appeared not to be listening.
As the political tone and temperature were rising and I was filming the demonstrators, I noticed a TV outside broadcast cameraman stationed on top of a large van. He wasn’t filming. He was waiting for the newsworthy ‘action’. They were expecting trouble and before the evening was out he expected to be filming clashes between riot police and angry protesters. The newsmen weren’t really interested in the cause for which vocal and volatile people were demonstrating - they were only interested in what would make good news footage. They weren’t listening either!
It struck me that when two parties are separated by brick walls - and a mindset - it doesn’t bode well for any real listening to take place, let alone dialogue or discussion. I reflected on our natural tendency to retreat behind our own castle walls into our own inner citadels, ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ when faced with anything that challenges or threatens our own interests or attitudes.
In Bolivia I encountered a very different problem for communication. Watching the deaf children at the “Centro Christiano para Sordos” (the Christian Centre for the Deaf) at Vinto near Cochabamba, was most instructive. How do you attract the attention of someone who is deaf? Shouting is useless as is waving your arms if they are looking the other way. There is no alternative but to run after them and physically make contact - touching arm or shoulder - then face one another.
Sadly, the old maxim that “there are none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear” is as true today as ever it was. Even when people have gone out of their way to get in touch with us - even bringing good news - we still have the capacity to shut our eyes and ears to avoid and ignore the message.
I did, however, observe something remarkable at Vinto and in its own way very beautiful. While filming an interview with Chris Chaves, the Director of the Centre, he used sign language throughout the interview. This was partly for our benefit, but more significantly in this way all the deaf children were included in what he was saying to us. There were no secrets here, no marginalizing or shutting out these disadvantaged young people. They could read what he was saying to us from the other side of the compound - if they wanted to!
Reflecting on these graphic images, both in Buenos Aires & Cochabamba, I thought on how many people complain that if there is a God, He rarely seems to be listening to them when they complain to Him or ask for this or that. The real question should be “do they ever listen to Him?”
Jesus frequently had to say to the people he spoke to - “If you have ears that can hear - then LISTEN!” The trouble is that most people either prefer to cherry-pick the bits they like and shut their ears to the bits they don’t, or simply ignore everything that God is saying. I shouldn’t have to draw you a picture of how ridiculous it is to complain that He isn’t listening while ignoring His answers!
The famous American humourist Mark Twain at least had the honesty to admit - “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand.”
If we won’t listen when He is speaking to us, we must take full responsibility for the consequences. We must begin by listening to and following our Maker’s Instructions.
My experience is that God is always listening to us - but ‘the sixty-four thousand dollar question’ is “do we ever listen to Him?”
Regular users of the Internet will know that many specialist websites have the facility to “Contact Us”. However, the answers to a very large number of the questions we might ask are already covered in “F.A.Q’s” - Frequently Asked Questions. God has already provided us with His answers to our F.A.Q’s through His Word - the Bible. That is the place to start, reading it in an attitude of expectancy and asking Him to reveal Himself to us as we do so. Countless millions of people around the world have found this to be so - people like the famous actor David Suchet who met God in Jesus by reading a ‘Gideon’ Bible he found in his hotel room.
I have also found that as I have taken on board what God has been saying to me through His Word - the Bible - a very real personal and working relationship has developed. The more I stop and listen to Him, the more He speaks to me in many other ways also.
My prayer is that someone reading this today will also stop and LISTEN to what God is saying to you now - then act upon it.
P.S. If any reader would like to comment on or ask a question about any of the topics covered in A Traveller’s Tales, ‘Wayfarer’ would be delighted to hear from you - via the Newsletter Editor.