Listening is Not Agreeing –
Late last week someone said something about me and that I didn’t agree. At first, the emotion was to respond, defend myself, dig in my heels, push back against the criticism. It wasn’t something overwhelmingly harsh but it did rub me the wrong way.
Instead of responding right away I sat with it for a bit and reflected on it. Oftentimes critiques are met with resistance. We want to defend ourselves. However, if we are too quick to jump our own defense we might miss something constructive. There’s an old wisdom saying; “Both criticism and compliments should be taken with the same weight.” Receiving compliments and praise can be easier but they have a way of pumping up our ego and sense of self. Criticisms, if held on to, can create bitterness, rivalry, and ruptured relationships.
One of the greatest disciplines of contemplative listening is found in the truth; “Listening is not agreeing.” When someone speaks to us a compliment or criticism we do not have to own it, take it inside of us, let it mingle with our minds, emotions, and spirits. We can examine it, turn it over in our minds and, if we have self-awareness, can decide if it is meant for us, to grow, to learn, to let it become a part of us. Perhaps its simply another’s opinion and through insight and stillness, we discover that we can let it go. It’s not for us.
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to hold a thought in our heads
and not necessarily believe it to be true.” #Aristotle
One of the hazards of working on outdoor projects is foreign objects getting stuck in the wrong places. Last night my thumb was hurting and after a closer look I saw there was a big thorn lodged in it from some prickly bushes we are replanting.
I walked into the kitchen, showed Beth and she immediately went to work. She grabbed a needle from her sewing kit, a pair of tweezers, sterilized them both and began attempting to remove the shard from my finger. Unfortunately for me the thorn was deep and liked its new home very much. Beth picked, squeezed, tried to pluck it out but to no avail.
Finally, with a lot of effort on her part, even more squirming on mine, she was able to grasp the thorn with the tweezers. However, because it was embedded so deeply it still couldn’t be extracted and every time she latched onto it, moved it, pain would shoot up my arm, followed by a loud; “OUCH!” “Sorry babe,’ she would reply ‘but I have to get it out.’” “We could just leave it in there.” came my rebuttal. “Then it would get infected.” “Okay.” I said and sighed in resignation. Ten minutes or so later the splinter came out and we both let out an exaggerated; “Whew!”
This morning, as I massaged my still sore thumb, I reflected on the truth that removing things is often painful. Life has a way of placing things inside our minds and emotions that can infect our souls. Bitterness, anger, unfulfilled expectations, despair, resentment, jealousy, unforgiveness all lodge themselves within us and, if not extracted, will poison and eventually kill our spirits.
Finding, acknowledging, extracting, these deep, painful and possibly infected places inside of us isn’t easy but wisdom tells us it is the choice between spiritual life or death.