The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” A friend of mine recently sent me his own fresh take on the second part: “… so use them in proportion!” Either way, it’s useful advice. As this newspaper recently commented, there’s value in “… encouraging different points of views – and then listening to them” (“The power in welcoming alternative views,” Jan. 22).
I’ve found prayer to be one of the most effective ways to pursue active listening and to help open a way toward healing. Prayer helps sharpen the spiritual acuity needed in order to recognize what might otherwise stay hidden – whether it’s good that’s hidden and needs to be seen, or evil that’s hidden and needs to be exposed. Early in my career, working as a journalist, there were times when it seemed nearly impossible to decide whose position on contentious local issues was accurate. A breakthrough came, however, on a story concerning local police officers’ residency requirements. By carefully listening first to all sides, and then prayerfully trusting God for direction, I was able to cut through many biased viewpoints and ultimately publish an article that was both accurate and fair.
Actively seeking out alternative ideas isn’t just a handy professional tool for journalists, politicians, educators, or lawyers, however. When it’s done with a desire for a higher understanding than human analysis can reach, it becomes a powerful mental and spiritual asset that promotes healing for everyone.
Christ Jesus urged us to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). This shows the importance of gaining that sacred perspective that exchanges one-dimensional, matter-based views of each other for the recognition of our true identity as God’s spiritual creation. Such spiritual insight enables us to see evidence that we are actively cared for by God – evidence such as considerate and effective law enforcement, for example. It helps us discern what’s right and what’s wrong, and inspires reformation and healing.
As we make an effort to see each other in our true, spiritual identity as the reflection of God, divine Love, we find it’s natural to follow another biblical command, to love our neighbors as ourselves. In turn, we become more compassionate, more respectful, more willing to listen to others. Actively living these qualities lifts us above surface appearances and human opinions, to the awareness of Love’s creation as inherently intelligent, graceful, and whole. This improves both the way we see and listen to others, and the way we are seen and heard.
There’s a special respect and receptivity needed for this – namely, a genuine, spiritually motivated embrace of the golden rule: to treat others as we would want them to treat us. The woman who founded Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, put it this way: “Let us serve instead of rule, knock instead of push at the door of human hearts, and allow to each and every one the same rights and privileges that we claim for ourselves” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 303).
Though Mrs. Eddy was addressing her students when she wrote that, perhaps it can speak to us all. Allowing those same “rights and privileges” for others – because we’re willing to recognize their true, spiritual character – makes us better listeners, problem-solvers, and healers. It’s an approach to living that magnifies each of us through the lens of genuine spiritual love. It opens our eyes (and ears) to cherish one another as the very image and likeness of God.