Nobody’s listening

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David Epps

For most people, listening does not come naturally. However good we think we are at listening, the chances are that we are poor listeners.

I graduated from East Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Social Welfare degree (later changed to Bachelor of Social Work). During that program of study, I enrolled in numerous courses that would aid me in any future endeavor that might be covered by that degree.

When I went to work as a counselor for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, one of the first continuing education courses the state required me to take was “Active Listening.” It was a course that taught people to listen. To really listen. To keep their mouth shut and concentrate on what was being said.

It seems that most of us are not very good at listening. If we are in a discussion with someone, especially someone with whose point of view is diverse from ours, the tendency is to hear what they are saying and immediately, even before they finish a thought, formulate our response, even our argument, against what they are saying.

The result is that we talk around people, over people, and through people without ever really talking to and with people. In other words, we argue with people. What we don’t do is listen. Hence the course mandated by the State of Tennessee’s Department of Human Services.

Recently, I was introduced to a young woman who, because our families were vacationing in the same place, took her meals at the same time we did. I noticed that the staff prepared for her a different dish than anyone else at the table. After a day of two I saw that, while we might be served chicken, beef, or pork, she was not. I assumed she was a vegan or vegetarian.

I am always curious as to why people choose that mode of life. The motives of people are different. For some, it’s a religious practice, for others it’s a health issue, for some it’s a political issue. And others may have different reasons.

Being a curious and basically a nosey guy, I thought about asking. However, people are so easily offended these days by almost anything that I deigned to engage her in conversation. But, after a day or two, I threw caution to the wind and said, “Do you mind if I ask a question?”

“Sure,” she said.

“I was just wondering, what are your reasons for being a vegetarian?”

Her reply surprised me. She said, “Well, I’m not a vegan and I’m really not a vegetarian. Do you know what a pescatarian is?”

I confessed that I had no earthly idea. She went on to explain that a pescatarian is a person who basically has a vegetarian diet but also eats fish and seafood. “I don’t eat land animals,” she said.

By keeping my mouth shut I was learning something. “So, are your reasons for not eating land animals moral, or health, or something like that?”

She shared that she felt that the land animals that we consume were more intelligent that we give them credit for and that she felt they felt terror and pain more than we imagined they did.

I found that I agreed with her. I have a Maine Coon Cat named Petey. Whenever I go to get him to put him in the car to take him to the vet or anywhere else, it’s like he has this uncanny sixth sense … he knows something is up however “normal” or even stealthy I attempt to be. He flees for all he’s worth.

As one who has been around dogs and cats for most of my life, I think there is more to them than the mere “instinct” I was taught in high school biology.

I also recalled that the last time I went hunting, I shot a deer. As I approached him, I saw that he was not dead. From the ground he looked at me through pain-filled, terror-filled eyes. I shot him again. I haven’t been hunting since.

I’m not opposed to people hunting but I don’t want to be the one to kill an animal I would just rather watch run through the meadows and woods.

So, even though she didn’t use these words, I concluded that her reasons were “moral.” After that we talked about a few other topics and, even though she was a bit more “left” and I was a bit more “right,” I learned why she thought what she thought and was able to similarly share. It was a pleasant and enlightening conversation. Something that is increasingly rare in our society.

Very few people are interested in listening, although multitudes of people are interested in talking. If one encounters a contrary point of view, the response is to overwhelm the other party with loud, argumentative rhetoric that only has the results of driving a wedge and increasing the divide.

It’s true on social media, in the halls of Congress, and in the news media. People are yelling at each other, over each other, at each other — all while not even attempting to listen and understand why that persons believes the way they do.

What do I hear after a couple divorces? “He/she never listened to me.” “He/she doesn’t understand me.” Those words are almost always true.

For the last four weeks, I have been without a television. One week was while we were on vacation, the other three after moving into our new home. We have televisions, we just don’t have the service installed yet.

These have been four of the most peaceful weeks in a long time. Why? Because I’m not listening to people scream at each other all the time, all day long. I have stopped visiting certain friends on social media because they are all about arguing and not at all about listening.

Perhaps, civility will return one day, but I don’t see that on the horizon anytime soon. It’s a shame that we all can’t be mandated to take “active listening” classes.

It might just calm things down, bring about more peace than we now have, and we might even discover that we can learn a thing or two.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]