Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Over the past few months, I've realized that a common thread in my relational struggles is trying to figure out how to take people seriously. Not that I don't; rather, I try, but regularly find that I'm hearing something different from what they may be saying or meaning (and to further the confusion, those two often aren't the same thing). Much of the time, I hear what it would mean for me to say what I'm hearing, and that's rarely the same. And though I don't want to be vain (or at least don't want anyone to believe I am), the truth is that, because of a heap of counseling training, I'm probably better equipped to listen than most. So when I hit a wall in the process, simple tips, tricks, and techniques rarely have much to offer.
What does it mean to really hear people, and how far am I really called to go in the effort? On the surface, it seems like one of those always-good, always-right, always-noble pursuits, but that assumption is worth examining rather than swallowing whole "just because." Right away, I have to acknowledge that I'm limited, which means A) I can't do everything, and 2) what I actually can do will also be imperfect and limited. That's a basic ground rule for life on Earth, one which clearly applies in listening. It doesn't preclude trying or being faithful—I'm called to trust in God's grace more than I trust in my own perfection.
With that understanding in mind, and in light of the Teacher's musing above, I have to admit that I can't figure out how to take people seriously much of the time, and that it's far from a universally good pursuit over which I should constantly exhaust myself. Being tired isn't the only cost, either—so often, I'm angry when I hear people say they value something, then live in an entirely different fashion. The more I try to take what I hear from people seriously, the more my nose is rubbed into that gap. And I hate it. Hate it.
None (or at best, few) of us are who we'd like to believe ourselves to be. I'm certainly not. Could it be that truth and grace sometimes (perhaps often) calls us to not take seriously what we hear from others? How do we do this in a way that's not dismissive, or is that simply the cost of our not speaking truthfully to one another (and indeed, to ourselves)?
Also, there's the question of scale: how many people should I try to hear at all? Of these, how many should I work to take seriously? The obvious starting point is "not everyone," but our culture still suggests I can do more than may be possible or good. At risk of being too "meta," online journals and blogs are great examples of this trend*: we can publish and read thoughts far outside the context of full relationship (or even personhood), then try to discern their meaning in the absence of relational cues (even with those we know), with as many "people" as we can jam into our browsers. When does that stop being scalable, and when does it stop being good? And how does intimacy factor in, knowing that our writings may reflect us at our most filtered and deluded, even when we might want to view them as authentic and raw?
No answers, just open questions, along with the slowly dawning realization that I may be regularly fighting the wrong battles on far too many fronts.
*I first met my wife through LiveJournal, so I'd be hard pressed to view this situation through a Luddite lens (can Luddites have lenses?). But I have to, have to consider the realities and their implications.