Can we offer another ear?

Bird Droppings May 2, 2011
Can we offer another ear?

“Hearing is one of the body’s five senses. But listening is an art.” Frank Tyger

After trying to find out who is Frank Tyger I have to resolve that I still do not know for sure, there are no Wikipedia pages to reference a sure sign no high school student ever did a biography of him. However as I mulled through numerous articles I found he was a on the staff of the Trenton Times for thirty five years till his retirement in 1992. Many of his political cartoons made it through the national media in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. However it was his humorist style to his editorials that left a mark and when looking for quotes his are numerous.

“Learn to listen. Opportunity could be knocking at your door very softly.” Frank Tyger

“Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.” Frank Tyger

Many years ago I went to hear Harry Chapin in concert actually I went several times to be honest. For some of you who live near Atlanta you will be familiar with the Fox theatre on Peachtree Street. Our high school just had their Prom there and all loved it. This grand building is considerably over ninety years old and the acoustics are unbelievable. Harry came out with his band and played and as always he had the audience eating out of his hand. Like many shows after a point there would be a short break and of course then they would be back. Some folks went to get drinks etc. a few us stayed seated just mellow from the music. The curtain parted and Harry walked on stage with a harmonica.
He sat down on the edge of the stage with no microphones and started playing. The notes filled the room and soon not a sound was to be heard by the melancholy melodic playing and singing of Harry Chapin. He proceeded to sing and in that theatre that night you could hear tears trickling down cheeks of the audience. As I think back today I do not remember the words or the song he was singing but the emotions were overwhelming. I read this quote from Frank Tyger earlier and remembered that night listening to Harry Chapin as he totally enthralled an audience. It is definitely true that listening as an art form.

“The first duty of love is to listen.” Paul Tillich

Years ago sitting in a dark class room and sitting through lectures on New Testament theology at the Candler School of Theology I recall how we were to compare and contrast Paul Tillich and Carl Barth, two great theologians of the twentieth century. It was many years till I could get myself to actually read Tillich’s words without thinking about the tedium of that classroom. I wonder how many students we have who think the same way about us as we stand before them trying to teach whatever subject it is we teach.

“Teachers report their overriding classroom concern is that students do not listen. The author of this book believes that listening attitudes, skills and behaviors need to be given renewed emphasis in today’s classrooms. However, without the proper tools, clear goals and ready examples, busy teachers find it difficult to teach, practice, and model listening. This text provides the practicing teacher and future educators with user-friendly rationale valuing listening, as well as examples and practical strategies to teach appreciative listening through a variety of curricular areas. Appreciative Listening: the Forgotten Art is ready for immediate classroom implementation.” Appreciative Listening: The Forgotten Art, by Constance Hoag, Ed. D.

I was envisioning a class room of students and their teacher standing in front of the room yelling you are not listening to me. Will you listen to me now? “Teach, practice and model listening,” is what the author Dr. Hoag states so clearly. Why do students not listen? The easy answer may be the teacher has nothing to say of interest to them. Maybe they do not know how to listen is another easy answer. Maybe they do not want to be there in that room at that moment. I started thinking back to Harry Chapin singing at the Fox no microphone all alone on the stage and every ear attuned to each note and each syllable. As I thought that could have been just as easily that classroom at Candler and the professor with a monotone voice dryly lecturing on Tillich and Barth or it could be my class room in Loganville High School. Why did I listen to Harry Chapin and not to Professor Monotone? Why does a typical student want to sleep or do make up or write notes to their boyfriend or girlfriend when the teacher is teaching or as I did in high school draw cartons for the school newspaper?

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” Kenneth A. Wells

“Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” Plutarch 46 AD – 120 AD

Teaching and or life skills number one the victim, student, or listener has to want to be there. They have to actively want to be listening and that sounds redundant. If a student does not want to be in that room or lecture how much more difficult is it to get their attention. Harry Chapin had no microphone and was addressing several thousand people in a large five thousand seat auditorium and we wanted to hear every word he sang. For parents, teachers and friends, be an active listener set the example first. In coming back to Dr. Hoag’s advertisement for her book above in the quote, model listening. Set the example and want to hear what your children and or students are saying. Who knows they may return the favor.
In a class room getting the interest sparked can be difficult but not insurmountable. Erich Fromm the great psychologist has written about “The Art of Listening” and maybe teachers and parents need to pay attention. Let us assume it is an art form and therefore open to interpretation to perception to different views and likes and dislikes. We need to be aware not all what we hear but to what we say the same way and in turn plan to respond accordingly. Start by being an avid listener and hear what and why then work on students listening to you. Practice listening and even have listening exercises. I often will play different types of music and get responses during the day just to check listening. I have used Hopi rain dance music which is not really popular yet when the “Lonesome Dove” or “Last of the Mohicans” sound track or Carlos Nakai are playing students never miss a beat and to date have never complained. Listening we do not do enough so please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Being Alone

Bird Droppings April 25, 2011
Being alone

Traditionally we as a family have had an Easter egg hunt for the children of the family now for over thirty years. While I have my moments of enjoying community time I am also very much an monastic individual seeking time alone which for me is often the early hours of the day prior to most even considering rising from their night of sleep. I am uninterrupted save for taking our dog out and the occasionally storm knocking out power limiting my writing and reading time. This morning I went back in my collected thoughts and found an old blog I had saved written by a friend. I read a blog first in MySpace many years ago written by a person who is as hard nails as they say but as I read the essay and reviewed numerous photos from New York streets attached to the writing a mention of loneliness came out. I wrote back that being alone and lonely were two different things. Many times I seek to be alone, and all it takes of course is a quick step inside and I am back with my family. But many there are times I seek solitude. I joke about my monasticism and sitting out in the mornings meditating, thinking, wondering and of course pondering about all that go on in the world. Contrary to this for me loneliness is a state of mind, one of our own being. It is so much more than simply being alone since we chose to be alone and loneliness is not always by choice.

“I hear the ticking of the clock – I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark – I wonder where you are tonight – No answer on the telephone – And the night goes by so very slow – Oh I hope that it won’t end though Alone” lyrics from Alone, Heart, Bad Animals album, 1987

I think by nature we are gregarious creatures we need others about us, around us and near us for us in order to be comfortable. I use the term from my sheep herding days of the herding instinct, we need to be in a crowd. It is not for defense as with sheep although maybe that is it when in a crowd we cannot be hurt, there is safety just like the sheep or small fish in a shoal bunching up some will die and be eaten but most will survive. In Canada, a musk oxen herd when attacked by wolves even though wolves can only take young and weak animals the stronger oxen circle the weaker and face the attackers with their horns. It is a good defense system evolved over tens of thousands of years. Sometimes we do this but more often than not the weaker of us gets pushed to the outside and swallowed by the attacking wolves of mankind.

“All men’s misfortunes spring from their hatred of being alone.” Jean De La Bruyere

When I listen to guys and girls in high school who cannot stand to be without a boyfriend or girlfriend it is about being alone. It is deep down a need, it is not love it is fear of being alone. So many of these kids are from split homes and not having someone is hard.

“No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.” Aristotle

The great thinker may have hit the nail on the head to have everything is nothing without friends.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

I was thinking back to some earlier emails and how heart is so important. How we would wither without another to respond to. I borrow again from one of the most poignant emails in awhile a heartfelt response from a friend a career retired Marine and now with the NSC.

“One final thought off topic. I have been in the service of my country as a Marine and intelligence agent. I have always believed that my service in some small way protected our nation against those who would do us harm. I have served with many fine people over my career. Still when I reflect on those I admire the most I would have to point to the three of my friends and others like them in the world. They continue to believe love can change the world and make it a better place. I pray every night that will someday be the case.”

I edited out names as they do not mean much to those who do not know the people and those of us who know them have read and experienced the heartfelt love.
I wondered when I added this thought as I write about being alone. This fellow lost his wife not too long ago tragically. I will not go into too much detail but he was alone for a period of time. Not too long ago he found a soul mate and they married and started a new life on a horse farm I am envious. I for one have been impressed as the love between these two people shows every email every word and as I reread this passage above peace my dear friend.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Kurt Vonnegut

It is about building community and this is a very powerful thought from a great writer and thinker. Maybe we spend too much time trying to find relationships and forget community. When I first moved to Georgia I was introduced to a Greek word koinonia defined by as “a Christian fellowship or communion with God or with fellow Christians; said in particular of the early Christian community”. As I read and tried to understand this word I found material written by Clarence Jordan and that led to finding out about the Koinonia Farm in Americus Georgia.

“’Koinonia is an intentional Christian community founded by two couples, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England in 1942 as a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.’ For them, this meant a community of believers sharing life and following the example of the first Christian communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles, even amidst the poverty and racism of the rural South.’ ‘Based on this radical call to discipleship, Koinonia’s very presence confronted racism, militarism and materialism with its commitment to: 1.Treat all human beings with dignity and justice 2. Choose love over violence. 3. Share all possessions and live simply. 4. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources.’”

I wonder what the world would be like if we all could follow these rules there is no religion in the four guidelines just humanities response to humanity. It is a community in a powerful way.

“Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich

The great theologian Tillich shows the paradox I started with. A friend who is alone and seeping towards loneliness yet cherishes her solitude as well for in it is her creativity and imagination.

“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges” Joseph F. Newton

As I read this statement by Newton it is so true solitude is by choice and loneliness in effect is as well you build walls of defense or of offense to ward off people getting too close or seeing who you really are. It is interesting as I think deeper on this pondering as I say. Here it is a new week a new morning and new droppings on its way. I spent much of the weekend working on my readings and writing for graduate school and working on my herb garden as weather was excellent this weekend. In closing as I have for nearly twelve years now, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts