IF YOU’VE ever taken a long plane flight you’d know that, at the time, who you’re sat with can appear as important as where you’re going.
Many years ago I was flying from Sydney to Los Angeles and the woman sat next to me in the plane took one look at me and said, “A priest! I can see I’m going to have to convert you!”. We both laughed, but I’m not so sure she was joking.
Before too long she starts bagging out priests and gave me pamphlets and started talking about meditation and mystical enlightenment.
Every time I’d finish reading a pamphlet and attempt discussing the pamphlet she gave me another pamphlet!
She started giving them to the man on the other side of me.
They must have had a strong influence on him.
Within minutes he fell into a deep meditation, complete with a peaceful snoring.
I eventually got to sleep, however, I awoke to a strange coldness.
When I woke up this woman was asleep with my coat as her blanket. It seems, perhaps via meditation, my coat levitated off me and onto her. I was tempted to take it off her but then I thought “What would Jesus have done?”
You see, I don’t know. They didn’t have planes in those days.
That was the longest plane flight I ever took, for a few reasons, but mostly because I tried to be understood, rather than try to understand.
If I hadn’t have tried so hard to make her see my point of view, I might have understood her point of view better and thus better understood our discussion.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me over the years after a significant event in their life “Thank you so much Father for being a listening ear.” I think three times in 2006 when I had laryngitis.
On one of the rare occasions in high school I was talking too much, a teacher exclaimed “Mr Lee, God gave you two ears and only one mouth so you could listen twice as much as you talk!” to which I replied “Then Sir, why did God make our mouth hole twenty times the size of our earholes?”
He muttered under his breath something about me being an earhole… or a mouth hole, I didn’t quite catch the first part; but whichever of the two he called me that day, as an ode to his wisdom, let us muse on the fact that we learn more by listening than by talking, and that when we learn by talking it is because we are listening to what we are actually saying for the first time.
The most important muscles and movements of the human body are involuntary and the less vital are voluntary; it could be said that hearing is involuntary and speaking is voluntary.
Sometimes we come across people who are keen to talk, be it in the supermarket, bus, train, wherever. Take time to listen, because sometimes we all need a listening ear coupled with a smile that can help set that person on the right path.
Few people have done as much for peaceful dialogue between Christians and Muslims as St Francis of Assisi. In his famous prayer to become a channel of peace, he prayed to understand, rather than be understood.
A good convention in good conversation is to greet with the question “How are you?”. I know it’s normally a greeting rather than a question, however, the right response to this greeting could be all important to the conversation.
FATHER BRENDAN LEE, Twitter: @frbrendanelee