“Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one…”
St. John Paul II
For someone who often speaks to rooms full of people, work has been a little different over these last few months. Recently, I was asked to present over Zoom to one small group that was gathering in person. Following the necessary spacing requirements, I was projected on a large screen and they were spaced around the auditorium. The only problem was, given the room requirements of where they were gathered, the only spot their computer could be placed meant their camera faced a white wall with a rusty pipe. So while they could see and hear me, the only thing I could see was a pipe. For an extrovert who feeds off and responds to the audience’s smiles or scowls, I was in no man’s land. While we got through it, the experience reminded me of the large rooms I spoke to in person before the pandemic. Whenever there are lots of people in a room and you walk around with a microphone and allow others to say something or ask questions, inevitably there’s always one or two people who want to give their own presentation, a monologue typically. When this occurs, what happens next is that every other participant in the room looks down or looks away, counting the seconds until the uncomfortable, unplanned speech is over. When it’s finally over, the room moves on, hardly acknowledging the long dissertation just delivered. As the facilitator, usually I am just as game to get back to the agenda.
As I thought about having just spoken to a pipe for 30 minutes, I thought about all those unintended lecturers that I and others used to look away from. While they may have needed to adjust their communication style for the moment, did they feel like they were simply talking to a pipe on a wall? When I couldn’t tell if people were listening to my talk, I found myself speaking louder, my heart racing more. Is that how they felt? How many times have they delivered that monologue before, and how many times have they felt ignored or unheard? We often speak of the need for dialogue, but how often are we really eager to hear what others have to say versus the lectures we have ready in our minds? Can I listen without readying my next rebuttal? Can I hear someone’s cries, fears or concerns as the Lord hears them? Instead of moving on to the point I want to make, can I first ask them questions to understand the point they are trying to make? Is my goal to win the argument or to change a heart? Without really listening, the latter is just a pipedream. Who will you listen to this week? Hopefully the Lord is at the top of all of our lists.