Thomas L. Friedman wrote today in the NYTimes: “Our presidential candidates may not be interested in talking seriously about the future yet, but the future will be interested in talking to them.”

Which led me to reflect on what Big Jake, aka John Wayne, might say, don’t be “short on ears and long on mouth.”

Listening. That rarely acknowledged but oh-so-crucial second half of communication. As an atomized, “Who’s watching out for me?” culture, communication today is anything but the art of being understood. Instead, we subscribe to the art of louder proclamation. From billboards and bumper sticker pronouncements to Pandora ads that incessantly interrupt our morning run, we act as if the point of connecting to one another is to find any way to grab attention. But we have it backwards. Our lives together demand, from marriage to parenting to friendship to business relationships, that we re-learn what it means to understand each other, and that means to listen to one another.

The most intimate human activity is conversation. Sex, at its best, is a byproduct.  To hear and to be heard. To know and to be known. To listen and to be listened to. To understand and to be understood. This is what makes us human. We are social creatures, who have no meaning, and therefore no life, apart from our being weaved together one to another. Our basest epicurean appetites, whether sexual or gastronomic or even the random reward of sport or gambling, cannot hope to even scratch the yearnings and longings of the human soul. We need each other, and that means we need to recapture what it is to listen.

Today, listen to a child, listen to a friend, listen to a stranger. Listen well, listen deeply. Enter into the gift of the message, always seeking to understand. Certainly, listen to the winds of change, and be mindful of the subtle (and not so subtle) markers that demand attention, but don’t forget to also listen to the quiet in your car, and let your own voice, or another Voice, whisper into those deep places you seldom enter. Take off the headphones and listen to the subtle harmonies of creation during your walk, letting the cacophony guide your steps. As you listen, to loved ones and strangers, to the quiet and the chaos, remember to let yourself bathe in the truth that you do not walk alone, for as you listen you will also be heard.

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