St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, advised his followers to always listen carefully and critically before speaking — and to avoid flying off the handle in the course of discussions. He wrote: "Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meanings, leanings and desires of those who speak. You will thus know better when to speak and when to be silent."
Notice that his focus is on understanding. It's easy enough to jump on people's words and phrases, trying to discredit them or their views, mocking them with sarcasm or distorting what they are trying to say, especially when they make a poor choice of words in the heat of a debate.
Ignatius further counseled his followers "to consider the reasons on both sides without showing any attachment" to their own opinions.
It's ironic that one of our culture's most popular symbols for not listening carefully and jumping to hypercritical conclusions was "The Church Lady," a character played by Dana Carvey for several years on "Saturday Night Live." In each skit she hosted her own talk show, "Church Chat," and invariably she would hear just a snippet of a guest's comments and go off on a tirade. After the guest eventually managed to cut in and explain that she had completely misconstrued his meaning, she would conclude the encounter by declaring, "Never mind."
Carvey said he based the character on women he knew from his church when he growing up.
If we want to be effective leaders — and effective evangelizers — we've got to be a lot better and more patient listeners than "The Church Lady." Of course, Ignatius was trying to teach Christians that 500 years ago.
Adapted and used with permission from Take Five: On-the-Job Meditations with St. Ignatius by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Kris D. Stubna, Copyright © by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.
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