Monday, September 24, 2007

More on a Theology of Listening

Two things I found when I Googled 'Theology of Listening.' (Highlighting mine...)

Source: Article by Lloyd Steffan

…Resisting the call of the other to come out of oneself and make oneself available to the other, which is the temptation of self-centered-ness, can itself be countered by performing various activities of openness, none of which is more important than listening.

The ability to listen depends not in the first place on any particular skill or technique, but on a fundamental respect for one’s partner in conversation. Listening is thus a moral act. Listening ...disrupt[s] our comfortable self-images and threatening to undo our everyday experience of ourselves (and others) as familiar and basically unified personalities. Not listening becomes a way of securing ourselves from encounter with the mystery of otherness. Listening exposes us to our own desires not to want to share of ourselves. Listeners are required not only to welcome the strangeness of the other but to risk self-disclosure in the act of listening, for the listener must at some point recognize and then expose to the other his or her own strangeness -- and not only to the other but to one’s own self.

As a college teacher, I often hear colleagues at my own school and at other institutions bemoaning their students' poor communication skills, especially their writing skills. Poor writing, however, is a symptom of a deeper problem: students also have difficulty reading. Many students do not love reading or working at reading and therefore have not learned how to engage a text. Many do not listen to those who would speak to them through written words, which is to say they do not understand that they must approach a text, even one they find disagreeable, with respect and the openness of humility. The reading problem, then, is itself a symptom of a problem with listening. Many students do not know how to listen, even to themselves.

After talking about this deeper problem for a long time, my colleague ... and I developed an experimental course called The Listening Point. ...It used no books. The premise of the course was that the students would be the texts. They were required to engage one another in conversation, to develop listening skills, and to learn to think through their own and one another’s ideas…

Each week, students were given listening assignments, usually requiring meetings of three students. They would meet outside class to discuss an issue: two people would talk while the third would listen and then report to the class what happened in the discussion. Students were continually called on to summarize the main points of someone else’s remarks, to ask critical questions or seek clarifications about ideas they did not understand.

…Several students complained that they got headaches from having to pay attention for the two-hour Monday night class; several others told us that they could not seem to relax after class, and that they kept conversations going into the wee hours.

The final exam was to participate in a conversation about a question previously discussed in the course, selected at random. Students were evaluated not only on how well they listened to each other but on how much they helped the other person clarify and articulate his or her positions. That is, they were finally evaluated on how well they helped another person listen to herself.

This course was eye-opening. Students got to know one another and professors got to know students in new ways. Most students found out that they really were interesting texts; others confronted some serious personal issues, turning the discussions in a therapeutic direction -- an allowable move since clear thinking and self-confrontation are essential to both philosophy and therapy. But what was most important was the development of listening skills.

The first stage of listening required that students simply attend to the other person and hear what the person is saying. That required students to eliminate distractions, to be present to the other person, and to stop interfering with communication by anticipating one’s own response before the other person had even finished speaking. Second, students learned to evaluate critically what they heard. Here the test was to be able to repeat what had been said, to summarize the other person’s position to the other person’s satisfaction, then to seek clarification and offer critical response, usually in the direction of seeing how adequately the speaker’s argument could be defended. Imagination was required at this stage of listening, for students had to consider implications and imagine possible problems that might arise from the other person’s thought; they also had to attune themselves to the other and actually try to see things from the other person’s point of view. The third stage, which we rarely saw but occasionally glimpsed, occurred when persons presented themselves before the other and revealed themselves in a true engagement with the other, sharing not only words but gestures and intentions, and being understood so well that another student might actually volunteer to articulate a position or idea better than did the person offering it -- yet without necessarily agreeing with it.

Students seemed most amazed by how much they disagreed -- something they were not finding out from their other classes or even from their social life. They found that their disagreements were very interesting and not cause for alarm or embarrassment or increased defensiveness.

Also found this: Bonhoeffer on The Ministry of Listening

"Brotherly pastoral care is essentially distinguished from preaching by the fact that, added to to the task of speaking the Word, there is the obligation of listening. There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here to our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.98.

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