Monday, June 17, 2013

Listening To the Nail

There is this video that is running rampant on Facebook: It's Not About the Nail. It is meant to be funny and yet prove a point. The point being that, even though women might be emotional and just want men to listen to them and not fix them, the problems men perceive and the solutions that men suggest are perfectly logical and just what is needed. You are left with the perception that women are  emotionally deranged beings and just want to whine instead of get with the program.

I watched it and laughed, too. The woman, we'll call her Miss Nail, sits there with a nail sticking out of her forehead, complaining of pain and how her sweaters are all snagged, and the man, Mr. Solution, says that she obviously needs to just take the nail out of her head and the pain will go away. "If you would just . . ."

But how many times do we hear that? We speak up, begin to share a burden, only to be answered with "If you would just . . . ." There is nothing that cuts off communication and stops fellowship in its tracks than being set up as a project for somebody else to fix.

The truth is is that it might NOT be about the nail after all. Or "just" taking the nail out might not be easy or even possible. What if the person the woman trusted more than anybody on the planet is the one that hammered that nail into her head and she is afraid to let anybody else near her? What if the only way to get the nail out is to travel a long distance to a highly qualified medical professional who can remove it with the least damage, but she doesn't have the money? What if that nail is in her head in such a place that its removal would result in her bleeding to death and so she has to live with it as it is? What if what she is talking about isn't about that nail at all? What if it is another matter entirely?

Mr. Solution might find this out if he were to maybe ask some questions and listen long enough to get the full picture. The "here I am, Mr. Fix-it to the rescue" attitude cuts off any true communication and understanding of the heart of the problem.

Listening is crucial. But listening takes time. Last week I read a most excellent article from a man who had interviewed a large number of college age and young adult atheists. He just wanted to listen and hear their stories. What struck me was that the most of these people came to him expecting to be argued with and debated and urged into changing their position. Once they realized that he was just there to listen then they really opened up. He said that early on most would claim that their decision to become atheists was a rational one, but if he listened long enough he would find out that often it was more emotional than rational. But he had to listen long enough.

Do we listen long enough? It seems like the knee-jerk reaction in society and even, maybe especially, in the church, is to fork over solutions and prescriptions without ever knowing the full story. We hear a snippet and assume, based on our own frame of reference, that we know exactly what is going on and how to fix it.

Young Woman shares with Older Woman that she is struggling in her marriage. Older Woman suggests that the solution is for Young Woman to keep her husband happy by having lots of sex. Lots of sex equals happy husband and happy husband equals happy marriage or something like that, maybe because that is what worked for her.

But the problem is that Older Woman never asked Young Woman any more about her struggles and the nature of the problem. What if struggling in her marriage means husband is having an affair, or abusing her or her children? What if husband is addicted to pornography and has rejected Young Woman as not exciting enough or forcing himself on her? What if struggling in her marriage means that every time she begins to have sex with her husband she is flooded with memories of being raped by her uncle and, try as she might, she just shuts down? The solution of "just have more sex" would not only be ineffective in the face of these situations, it could be downright harmful. But Older Woman doesn't know this because she never asked and never took the time to listen.

People who are hurting rarely fight for the right to be heard. Shut them down with a "you just need to" and you have shut them down for good. We are called to love and encourage one another, not necessarily fix one another. This isn't just my lame idea because I get tired of getting "fixed" myself, other people have said it, too:

Our mutual calling is to live out our faith together, not simply provide solutions to one another. —William P. Smith from Loving Well

That's not to say we cannot work toward solutions together. But we must listen long enough to truly understand the problem before we can, together, come with a solution. If we are to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), we need to be able to identify what those burdens really are.

For Mr. Solution in the video, it will mean listening long enough to get the whole picture. It might mean that he has to earn the trust of Miss Nail before he can take out the nail himself. It might mean that he helps Miss Nail raise money to travel to the specialist who can remove the nail for her. It might mean that he is there to assist her when she puts on her sweater so that it doesn't get snagged on the nail. But he won't know until he listens.

I think that is one reason why James tells us to "be quick to listen" (James 1:19). If we listen, we just might learn something and end up loving somebody in the process. 

1 comment:

  1. These are some phenomenal insights, very well explained. Thank you for articulating so well. We are having an issue right now in our congregation that has resulted in a lot of talk and not enough listening. So many shields have been raised in anticipation of attack that dialog is becoming suffocated. "Rebooting" to a level of sincerely listening is so vitally important. Again, thank you.