Monday, November 12, 2012

Conversation: He Talks, But Does He Listen?

Everyday conversation. What do I have to say for myself? Well, for starters, I don't really know how to listen to a person.

I'm not saying that I'm a boor, or that I never let others talk. I do plenty of listening in a conversation. I listen to people's words and give a lot of attention to what they are thinking.

But I don't listen to people.

Sometimes, when people speak to me, my mind works hard to organize their expressions into the form of some coherent problem, and then respond in a way that helps them to resolve their problem. I assume that this is "communication," and I am sincere, because I really do want to help people--which, of course, means finding the right ideas to advance their ways of thinking.

This is not so bad, of course. It can be useful if the person is asking a question, or seeking information.

But often, when people speak, that's not what they want.

Of course, I know that, and I'm very flexible. I don't just belabor people with advice. In fact, I can be useful in variety of different conversations.

Sometimes people just want to banter. Well, I'm good at bantering. Jokes? Even better. Or talk about the weather, or whatever else. I try my best to be agreeable in conversation. After all, I like people. I come from an Italian heritage--of course I like people! I like people and food even better.

And of course, I want people to like me. So what's wrong with that?

Nothing, I suppose. There's nothing wrong with it...well, a bit of vanity here and there....

But am I paying attention to this human person who is speaking to me?

If the person is really giving something of himself or herself to me in a conversation, am I listening? As long as its articulate, informative, or entertaining, or I can be helpful, or I can get the person to like me more? Sure, I'm listening.

But what about those insoluble, inexplicable things, the cries of the heart, those words that are not asking for a solution but are trying to share a suffering? What if the person wants nothing from me? He or she just wants me to listen, to be receptive.

I will try, but my mind starts to wander pretty quickly. My effort is rather weak.

Too often, my desire in human interactions is for me to experience affirmation. I want to come out of a conversation with the sense that my value has been recognized and appreciated. This desire can even be a motivation for "helping" people. It feels great when I receive the recognition and gratitude of people who have been helped by me.

Of course, I'll say, "Oh really, nothing, nothing at all" and "its God's work" (funny how I'm willing to toss a few crumbs to God) and "I'm just a poor man who knows nothing," etc., etc. but don't be fooled by that! A vain person always has a "humility routine" to conceal his vanity from others and especially from himself.

I know that there is something psychologically complex at work here. I really want to recognize and love the other person. I want to see and to rejoice in the gift of God that is the mystery of this other person. I want to receive what he or she has to give. I want to do "what's right." After all, I'm a "good Catholic"! I won't violate God's commandments to satisfy my vanity.

Uhhh...well...not consciously, anyway. Ah...heh...okay, okay, in little ways, yeah...I'll fib sometimes, or I'll diss somebody (just a bit), or I'll play to other people's cynical tendencies because that's always good for a laugh! And I'll buff and wax everything you see and hear (and read) so that you will admire me (hypocrisy? Oh yeah!).

But its not just that. Really, my motivations are usually a complex mixture of self-seeking and other aspirations. There is the desire and the will to seek something more, to find the "you" at the other side of the conversation, to discover communication and community. And then I've glimpsed many times the Beauty that is so much greater than my grasping ego, and that Beauty is always drawing me.

Yes, I'm a mixed bag. A real muddle.

There are so many problems in the world. And I don't have to go anywhere to find "the world." The world beats beneath my ribs.

A real muddle. And also this Beauty, that draws mysteriously, works miracles, changes things. There is the muddle...and then Something Different.

Something has happened in me, in the world. Its changing everything....

People notice it even when I try to hide it. And, really, I don't want to hide it.