Just Listen, Will Ya?
This Passover, let's reclaim the lost art of listening.
Grandpa was sitting alone in the kitchen.
It was a late day in May, but the mercury snickered at the calendar, like a leopard in a mousetrap. Everyone spoke about the heat, not really sure if it was a springtime anomaly or a harbinger of summer.
But Grandpa could care less about weather patterning. He was, as we say, "uni-focussed."
"OY! Am I thoisty!!!" he bellowed.
No one heard.
"OY! Am I thoisty!!!" he cried once more, cranking up the decibels.
Now people in the next room heard, but they did not react. I guess they had grown accustomed to (tired of) Grandpa's demands. But the grumbling quickly changed to pleading.
"OY!!!! AM I THOISTY!!!"
It worked. "Here you go, Grandpa," offered Lisa, handing him a tall, quenching glass of lemonade, while scurrying back to the couch in the den. Her book had fallen and it took her a good minute or so to find her place again. But as she gently re-entered the novel's backdrop, she heard a very familiar voice moaning from the kitchen. Yes. It was Grandpa. What could he want now?!
"OY! WAS I THOISTY!!!"
Okay, okay. So I adapted an old Yiddish joke, dating back to the 50's. All right, the 30's. Somehow, that story has always occupied a soft spot in my funny bone. Poor old Grandpa...sitting alone in the kitchen. I guess he wasn't very thoisty after all, was he? Or maybe he was. We'll never know. But one thing we do know: he certainly was lonely.
You know, Passover is sooner than we think, my wife gently reminds me, and I suppose I'm thinking about Grandpa and family and things like that. But Passover really reminds me of something even more fundamental: the lost art of just "listening" to someone.
Not too long ago people actually used to listen to each other.
Many of us have forgotten (myself included), but not too long ago people actually used to listen to each other. It's true! People sat together, either in the park, or at a coffee shop or on the phone. One person spoke – the other listened and then they reversed roles! That was the formula and it worked.
But those days are gone...sadly. Eye contact, empathy and just plain listening have been replaced by remote controls, very fast food, and "Love to chat, but gotta..... (voice trails off into the Palm Pilot).
The process was a gradual one. Initially we found ourselves with less and less time for mundane activities like listening to someone else. "So unproductive." Then, as video images became the modus operandi for the entire waking portion of our daily existence, we kind have "forgotten" how to listen to anyone else. "When does the film start?" And now, I fear, if we meet someone who needs to talk, we just pity the poor soul. "I mean... isn't that what therapists get the big bucks for?"
Enter Passover. With all its majesty, splendor, and tradition. But amidst the finest cutlery, the glimmering goblets, and the spiritual symbols galore, the Seder is really all about the art of listening.
In Judaism, we tell our children stories to wake them up.
I've heard it said that throughout the world people tell stories to their children to put them to sleep. But in Judaism, we tell our children stories to wake them up. The wine, the matzah, the bitter herbs are all central to our fulfillment, but our primary obligation at the Seder is simply to tell the story – the story of the miraculous events that framed our liberation from Egypt and led us on our road to Sinai. And listening to that story is paramount to the whole process.
The Torah, always meticulous in its written formulation, strangely prescribes for us the story-telling methodology. "So that you will tell in the ears of your children and grandchildren what I wrought in Egypt..." (Exodus 10:2)
The Torah's stipulation that we speak into the "ears" of our children may have seemed somewhat superfluous. After all, where else shall we direct our verbal communications to -- their hair? But today, that directive seems down right prophetic! There will come a time (read ‘now') when listening will become inefficient, forgotten, or passé. But hear the story, we must. Convey the particulars in any way you wish. Just be sure that our children are really listening. Speak into their ears.
Today, with our insatiable need to dissolve every nuisance facing us, however inconsequential it may be, and with our total intolerance for any discomfort whatsoever, we've lost sight of how powerful a good "listen" can actually be. Instead, we've all become "master problem-solvers." Ever-ready with several "perfect" solutions for everybody else's problems.
But by now you may have noticed...those FABULOUSLY CREATIVE solutions are rarely greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm. If you are really lucky, your illuminating insight will simply be ignored. More likely, the reaction you get will be something nestled between contempt and derision, for implying that YOU came up with something that I hadn't thought of. Hrmph!
What they really wanted when they "revealed" that problem to you was a good "listen."
Attentive, compassionate, and sincere. That kind of response is always welcome. And, these days, quite unexpected. Add a dose of old fashioned eye contact and a pinch of genuine sympathy and you'll be amazed at how ameliorative your reply will become. In other words, just replace the brain with your shoulder and watch the hearts meet.
Passover, the occasion to usher in real freedom, can also be the inauguration of a newfound commitment to give people what they really need most. A chance to speak. An opportunity to be heard. A comforting touch. A good "listen." Or maybe a glass of lemonade.