(Published in the North Adams Transcript, February 2009)
There was a time, not so very long ago, when people communicated directly with each other. When parents spoke, children listened. When children spoke, parents paid attention. When we dialed a phone number, a real person responded. When the phone rang, we guessed who it might be and immediately answered. Most everyone ate dinner together, a time when the radio and TV were turned off. And today, we have progress—computers, the internet, cable TV, cell phones, ipods and blackberries—a host of fantastic gadgets that were designed to make communication so much easier. But what we really have are attention grabbers, perhaps even addictive lures that give us multiple ways to profess ourselves, talking over everything else to make our points known.
I sometimes get startled when I see a person walk down a store aisle, seemingly talking to him or herself. Then I see the little protrusion mounted on the head and realize they’re speaking on a cell phone. Many times, we’re forced to hear these conversations while standing in line at the register, and what I’ve noticed is a whole bunch of speaking but little listening. Perhaps it’s the response delay with cell phone technology. Years ago we held a microphone and pressed a button to speak. When you released the button, the other person could then be heard. I think many folks now hold the talk button down too long.
Recently, I discovered a new communication venue, the local topix.net forums. Each of my postings and replies often take a considerable amount of time to prepare. I can tell that many other folks also take the time to craft a well written and extremely meaningful message. Then we sit back and read responses that have completely overlooked the detail, focusing rather on one line that is then taken completely out of context. Let me also add that many responses are written by people who could not possibly have an ounce of respect or compassion and appear to be in a state of personal torment—a person in need of reconciliation. The dangerous part here is anonymity. Unless the writer completes an accurate profile, no one truly knows who the author is; complete freedom of expression without putting your personal honor on the line. What is revealed by some of these individuals is truly amazing and often frightening.
Within the next few days and weeks, Christians will be in spiritual retreat during Lent, Jews will be preparing for Passover, Muslims will be celebrating Mohammed’s birthday, Buddhists will be celebrating Vesak (Buddha’s birthday), Hindus will be preparing for Hali (the festival of color). Others will be preparing for the new seasonal life generated by the return of the sun’s warmth. Everyone is celebrating or reverently acknowledging a regeneration of God’s gifts. In my Christian faith during the season of Lent, it is traditional to give up something that would cause us to suffer, even just a little, in remembrance of Jesus’ time on the cross. I think we should change this tradition to add something positive to someone else’s life. Sit down with your children, encourage them to speak and listen intently. Plan frequent one-on-one time with your spouse or significant other to just listen to their thoughts about anything. Go to a nursing home and visit with someone you don’t know. Just start the conversation then sit back and listen. These poor souls have so much to say in the remaining days of their journey on earth.
After you’ve added something positive to others, then do the same for yourself by reserving a couple hours of quiet time at a favorite spot at home or even outdoors. Then quietly listen to your God who reveals him/herself in the warmth of the sun, whispers of the wind, the songs of birds and rustling of last year’s leaves that promise a reawakening, a rebirth, a new page that is about to arrive. We must pay attention, be a better listener or miss it entirely.
Fr. John E. Midura
St. Mary Magdalen Reformed catholic Mission