by Colleen Donahue
Amongst most people in our country there is a growing concern about the polarization we are facing as a society. We are talking AT each other rather than to and with one another. We have lost the one fundamental element that could reverse this trend, which is exemplified by James Ensor’s painting called “Russian Music”.
We find ourselves in a parlor of a couple where the wife is playing the piano and her husband is attentively listening. He sits close by with hands folded on his lap and head cocked towards the piano so as not to miss a single note.
The husband exemplifies for us the rare art of listening. I say rare because in our fast-paced life it is rare. Usually when music is playing it’s as noise in the background. It fills a space called silence which many of us find scarey. If we are “listening” to music or a movie or TV, our hands are usually busy doing “something”. Multitasking is the norm where we concentrate on neither activity. If we’re with another person who is talking to us it’s a pretty good chance that we are planning what we are going to say back to them instead of listening.
Real listening is a form of loving. It’s focusing our attention on what another person is expressing whether through words or as in this painting through music. How many marriages would be saved if we really listened? Even music is pregnant with a message if we will listen for it!
Listening requires us to stop ourselves — literally and figuratively. We must cock our head so that our ears can hear what is being expressed and stop our hands from activities which pull our concentration away. When we listen in this way the other person perceives our love for them.
Learn to follow the advice James gives us in his letter to the Jerusalem church. “Be quick to listen and slow to speak….” (James 1:19) If we talk less and listen more we’ll soon find our love growing towards others.