Help Me To Listen

It is a well-known fact that young people really know what’s happening, while old people are lost in a time-warp of their past. Well, let’s just say that a lot of folks make that assumption. And assumptions seem to be just as important as facts in today’s controversies.

For example, take the issue of “gay” marriage, please (apologies to the memory of Rodney Dangerfield). The au courant generation bases its position on the assumption that refusing to recognize same-sex marriage is a denial of equal rights for those who have non-traditional convictions about gender. That’s what the schools teach and it’s constantly echoed in the media.

But those of us steeped in traditional morals make the assumption that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is designed for the propagation of children and the inculcation of values that hold society together. So, when traditionalists talk about the “family unit” they are referring to building blocks that, when put together, comprise the edifice of society. The old view is that marriage is an institution which forms the foundation of our culture.

But in the young view, the importance of our traditional culture is diminished by the diluting effect of multiculturalism. “Family” is redefined to include anyone with whom you choose to closely cohabitate. In other words, the idea of family becomes valueless, in terms of social cohesion. The new view is for everyone to associate within a narrowly defined “community” made up of folks who share certain interests, characteristics or beliefs, which in effect, redefines the meaning of community. In other words, while claiming diversity, each “community” becomes an isolated island, based on how they see themselves and how they see others.

It’s important to see another generational difference. (Please bear with me while I generalize. I understand the inherent problems with making generalizations, but while there are always exceptions, I’m just trying to shed light on what I see as a general trend, not that everyone falls into these categories.) Young people are taught — not only formally in school, but informally by popular media — to seek “self-esteem”, to feel good about themselves and pursue activities and goals designed to fulfill their desires and make them happy. But when you focus on your own particular interests, it takes very little to slip into self-absorbed behavior, which tends to break down the social fabric.

While older generations were certainly aware of the option of self-satisfying behavior, they were taught that other values had a higher priority. Typical values given more emphasis than “self-esteem” were: getting a job and paying one’s own way; being responsible for one’s own actions and owning up to mistakes; doing your best – not just doing the minimum; watching out for your neighbors, particularly the very old and the very young; obeying the law; seeking an education; looking for opportunities to serve others; or “bettering” yourself. These values all tend to reinforce the social fabric.

Woodrow Wilcox


So, how does society connect two such divergent life views? How do we communicate? To the young, I say this: You will discover truth when you come to the end of yourself. While youth is intoxicated with the passions of life, it cannot see beyond its own pleasures or dreams. Like a baby going through stages of development, a maturing person learns that reality is greater than himself and his immediate surroundings, and includes a whole universe, in which he is only a tiny speck. A mature person is less apt to continually spout his own ego-driven pronouncements than he is to listen to what someone else has to say.

Listening is the first step toward any reconciliation of differences. The Bible says it this way:


Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. — James 1:19

Everyone wants to be heard, wants to be listened to. Yet so much of the time we are reduced to the futility of shouting out, “Listen to me!”, “Won’t you please just listen?!” There is nothing so alienating and isolating as the refusal of others to listen to you. It puts you in a category of those unworthy to be noticed, a nobody, a non-person, a smudge on the surface of the street. And what do we do when we feel that way? We either slink away, crushed, or we strike out in anger. There are no other options when you are not being allowed to communicate.

Not being listened to ends communication. That is because all communication consists of two equal parts: sending and receiving (Receiving is just another word for listening). When the person who hears the message indicates to the speaker of the message that he has heard it, communication is assured. The most factual, informative, brilliant speech is not communication until someone listens to it. The act of telling someone something is not communication. First, they have to listen. We cannot communicate without listening.

It is therefore vital that we teach one another to listen. Children who constantly make noise and refuse to listen need to be “hushed” by their parents. But even this simple exercise has been abandoned by young parents because they have been taught that above all their child must not have his self-esteem damaged. This child will grow up to be a poor listener, demanding rather that others listen to him. He has not been taught a fundamental rule that must be followed by everyone, if we are to be civilized:

In order to have people listen to you, you have to listen to them.

Basically, it’s the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), which is designed for everyone to follow. Listening can be a sacrifice of love or a sign of respect. It can calm down a speaker because someone cares enough to listen. But that’s the old paradigm. Younger generations tend to reject rules that apply to everyone. They like to think of themselves as above such rules, and expect to be listened to, since they already know everything. But returning the favor is beneath them; the older generation doesn’t even merit their condescension. Again, such an attitude will cut all connections and kill communications; neither camp really understanding the other, and neither camp feeling validated or appreciated by the other.

We need to get beyond this impasse. We need to realize we are all in the same boat. We need to communicate. We need to care for one another, despite our disagreements. Remember, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44). In addition to speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) we need to forgive those who stubbornly refuse to hear us (“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” — Matthew 6:12). Indeed, listening is a debt we owe to each other. And sometimes, when interaction in the public square has become so strained that no one is listening, that debt needs to be forgiven.

There is some uncertainty of the origin of the curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Yet, whether it is of ancient Chinese origin or from the twentieth century West, we are indeed living in “interesting” times (not peaceful; not tranquil). If I have listened, but my enemies have not, if they continue their brutish, childish bleating in a demand for my attention, I can forgive them. But that is all I can do. They remain my enemies. The rest is up to them.

If our nation, our culture, our civilization is to survive, we cannot continue to have the generational schism that exists today. If we fail to reconcile our differences through communication, society will implode and decisions of policy and law will be implemented by the use of force. Many will suffer and die. Some have said that this is the natural order of things, that civilizations rise and fall, punctuated with acts of cruel violence. I pray that this is not the case now, for we in America have been given such a blessed form of government, designed to recognize and protect the God-given rights of free citizens.

Whichever side of the divide you see yourself on, take a moment to reflect on these things. Try to listen better; try to forgive more often. Lets try to work things out together, in an E Pluribus Unum kind of way.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me in the way everlasting. — Psalm 139:23-24

Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt. We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant. — Psalm 123:3-4

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.” — Psalm 141:3-4

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Michael Day is a native Californian and a retired mailman, proud of the fact that while most of his friends were protesting the war in Viet Nam, he volunteered for the draft and served in combat with the U.S. Army Infantry. His diverse life experiences range from singing with the San Diego Opera to doing menial labor and being involved in church leadership for twenty five years. His blog,, is an expression of his deep convictions concerning freedom and Biblical faith.
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  • WXRGina

    This is an excellent piece, Mike!  Your deep contemplation and wisdom are priceless.

    Listening is often a very hard thing to do, and your advice is right on the money!

  • retiredday

    Thanks for your kind words!  Like Poker (“You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…”) the strategies of war tell us there is a time for bridge building (diplomacy) and a time for the show down (attack and blow up your enemy’s bridges).  I try to build bridges, but I meet a lot of resistance.  War begins when peaceful means no longer work.  How much longer must we try to listen?  We know from Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a time for everything.  I hope the time for listening will not soon be over.  For if it is, then the time for destroying has come.