We might be easing slowly out of lockdown, but if we don’t listen then what kind of a world are we emerging back into?
We are surrounded by noise, whether it is the noise of people around us, the constant noise of technology, the noise of kitchen appliances, the noise of cars and trucks, emergency vehicles, planes and trains.
There is noise everywhere and perhaps that is one reason why we’ve become less good at listening… listening to each other, listening to our children, listening to ourselves…
Just like it’s harder to hear the sounds of nature around us, the song of a bird or the cry of a fox, it’s harder for us to tune in to other people or our own inner ‘voice’.
On top of everything else, over the last 15 months, as we’ve lived through lockdown after lockdown, we may have been so unsettled, anxious and worried about everything that perhaps we’ve been less inclined to just listen. Less able to mute the concerns that have dominated our thinking every day and to just listen…
The world, and indeed our own country, is filled with conflict. People taking ‘sides’ and being unwilling or unable to listen to different views, different perspectives.
If you believe what I believe you are ‘right’, if you believe something else you are ‘wrong’, and in many cases the vitriolic real-life ‘slanging match’ or online ‘pile on’ that follows is horrible to witness. Whether it’s politics, equality, the response to COVID-19, or a hundred other fault lines that have divided us, those divisions run deep.
We seem to have lost the ability to listen to someone who thinks differently to us, who is in a different ‘tribe’. To respectfully discuss alternative points of view, to be willing to learn and maybe even to change our minds. In many cases our identity becomes enmeshed with our strongest held views.
Is this healthy? What does this do to our mental health? What does it do to our relationships with other people? What does it do to our society? What example does it set for our children?
Our children’s voices seem to have been lost more than most over the last 15 months or so, especially children with additional needs.
They struggle to understand the rage that people show when someone disagrees with them; they can’t easily comprehend that the pressures of the last 15 months have been too hard for many people to keep in.
But they have experienced great pressures too, a loss of school time, separation from family and friends, being shut indoors for months on end, their screens becoming their closest companions.
The mental health toll on all of our children has, and continues to be, massive, particularly for some children and young people with additional needs who may not have the cognitive ability to understand all that is going on around them.
Are we listening to them, really listening? Reading the signs in their non-verbal communication, their body language and facial expressions, their reluctance to do things, their withdrawal?
Although, bit by bit, we are emerging into the ‘new normal’, for our children this is still a huge change. Are we listening to their worries, treating their concerns seriously, supporting them, equipping them, and being there for them even though we are struggling ourselves?
With all that is going on, that little inner ‘voice’ inside of us can be drowned out. The plaintive cry of “I’m exhausted!” goes unheard, or worse, ignored. We keep on going until we collapse, having long since gone past ‘empty’ on our physical, mental and emotional health fuel gauge.
We think that we “can’t” slow down, we “can’t” think about ourselves, we “can’t” do some self-care… we’re just “too busy” and “too many” people depend on us.
But what good are we to anyone when we’ve finally hit that brick wall that is the inevitable destination if we don’t listen to ourselves. What will happen if we wake up one morning and just can’t get out of bed, no matter how hard we try?
What will the people who depend on us do when we’ve experienced a physical or mental breakdown? When we’re the ones who have become dependent on others?
Friends, let’s listen better; let’s listen to each other, let’s listen to our children, let’s also listen to ourselves. We might be easing slowly out of lockdown, but if we don’t listen then what kind of a world are we emerging back into?
Let’s learn to listen well, and learn to respond better to what we hear too!
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.