Remember when we listened?

While in Melbourne my Godmother gave me some books as a type of homework to create a reference point we could talk from regarding Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y and the emergent church (apparently called ‘fresh expressions’ in England/Melbourne). Thus I am reading Hugh McKay’s “Why Don’t People Listen?” which is my first book. This one has little to do with the emergent church, but it is an interesting read. Firstly because it’s a snapshot of the 1990s, which is nice – I enjoyed what I do remember of this decade. McKay is excellent at charting popular culture and phrases. It’s strange the things we used to say in the nineties are outdated!!

There is a great section on listening, and I’d love to share some quotes with you.

I guess I should premise these quotes by commenting that my parents are seemingly unaware of any generational gap between us. I think they’d acknowledge there are certain things I do instinctively that they struggle with (such as texting on a mobile phone) but their conclusion is that given time and space they could learn to do the same things equally well. I, however, like many of my generation am becoming aware of a larger chasm opening between Baby Boomers and following generations – something much deeper than exposure to technology. As the thought of a retirement spending their children’s inheritance beckons, and the necessity to learn new things fades into their past, I’m convinced this gap can only grow. I sometimes wonder as to who and what would need to fall in this abyss to close the growing impasse – or if it’s okay just to label it a “generational gap”.

Please don’t assume that I don’t enjoy listening to Baby Boomer’s perspectives. I have a LOT of Baby Boomer friends, who I love dearly, and we converse in all the breadth, depth and length of that word. I just don’t think there are many Baby Boomers who enjoy listening to my view. I say that defensively because I do feel that Generation Y in all its hedonistic, selfish way of life does actually have some positive thoughts it seeks to contribute to the world, and some of these thoughts are valid. Authenticity, for example. A greater care for the environment. A more balanced work and home life.

Look… I’m the first to admit that I am a sensitive, artistic type – the ones who are the most difficult to deal with. But I do wonder whether the world as Baby Boomers know it is becoming “the world as Baby Boomers knew it“. Some don’t sense this, and others do. And, if I’m allowed to make this observation, it looks to me like some are so scared of this transition that they’re clutching onto the remnants of things that fulfill their worth and purpose like the world is falling off its axis. Which is not a very Gen Y thing to do at all… considering we don’t often even stay in the same town or career path for more than five years, let alone keep a title (or like anything we happen to be given). So right there, we’re staring at each other confused.

Remember when we used to talk? And when listening was as important as sharing your own perspective? (Well I don’t, but I’m hoping this tactic works for some of you reminiscing types)…  This is what McKay says on the topic:

“When we listen, we are being remarkably generous: we are offering the other person the gift of understanding; the gift of acceptance (even if not agreement); the gift of taking that other person seriously.

But the generosity of listening runs even deeper than that. To listen to someone with a genuine willingness to entertain their ideas means that you join with the other person in the task of concentrating on (and perhaps clarifying) their point of view, their opinions, and their attitudes.

Listening is a gift of much more than time; it is also a gift of mental energy and a willingness to undertake a cooperative exploration of the other person… “

You know, I think listening is one of my weak points. But in this research role, I am listening constantly. Listening to those with an intellectual disability.

Listening costs us a great deal. Especially listening to those with a sister or brother with Downs Syndrome, or listening to parents of children with Autism. Sometimes I want to cry or scream. Particularly when I deal with the very hard cases. When I meet a mother in a wheelchair who shares with me how she feels inadequate when she drops her child off at school – but she is trying her best. No-one should feel condemnation because they are in a wheelchair. And I want to give up when I hear another mother share how she would like to drop her child off at a respite home and drive away, never to come back, but she is so fearful that the Government cannot care like a  mother does – and so fear and resentment drive her every morning and she knows her child senses it on her face, in her manner, and in her tone of voice.

We don’t always hear what we like to hear. But I am learning to listen. To really listen. And to have my expectations, my world-view and even my faith shaken to the core. I don’t think there’s any other way to truly live – because the cages we build to protect us are the same ones that imprison us.

Some people have asked me to write more encouragement in my blog – but I don’t know a greater encouragement than one towards learning to listen. To me, this is a beacon of hope shining in the distance. Most of us don’t need fuzzy compliments – if you do, this isn’t a blog you should read, there are many people who are soft and fuzzy and pastoral. But if you need a trainer yelling in your ear “Come on! You can do it” as you strain towards the finish line of the human race then please feel free to keep on reading along with me.

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