by Laurie Gudim
Once, when a young friend of mine was grieving the death of a favorite aunt, I asked her what she would miss most. With tears in her voice she told me, “She really listened to me. She didn’t just pretend.”
At the core of servant leadership is this essential skill. We must learn to really listen. No one is served who hasn’t been heard. Remember those times when you felt patronized or written off? The people with whom you were in contact were not listening to you, and as the result, these were not the moments when your needs were met or your causes furthered. Now remember the other times, those moments when someone totally “got” you.
Good listening is hard work. It is not as simple as focusing one’s gaze and giving off the correct body language. It is a kind of oblation, a self-emptying. One must put aside the clanging, churning turmoil of one’s thoughts and feelings to provide a space of welcome. Good listening is at heart a generous hospitality. Setting oneself aside, opening all the senses, one becomes aware of words and gestures, the quality of silences, the set of a chin or thrust of a shoulder. What do all these things mean? What do tears mean, or laughter? One must learn the unique language of the one to whom one is listening.
We bring to good listening our own reactions and feelings. But we must clear our hearts of opinions, of preconceived ideas, of understandings forged in some distant class room or family gathering. Before us is an individual. In humility we must let them tell us who they are, what is important to them, and, finally, what they need.
You can see how the practice of contemplative prayer can prepare us for this work. It gives us experience in letting go, in receptivity and attentiveness. Indeed, contemplative prayer is also all about listening – listening for God. And listening for God is essential to being a servant-leader. It opens to us the dimensions of creative response and engagement beyond our personal perspective. It opens us to love and peace and frees us from fear.
Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Enslaving ourselves to one another through the profound gift of attentive listening and then doing what is necessary to end oppression and suffering is the service he requires.
Laurie Gudim works is a religious iconographer and writer in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.She has recently published her novel, Loving the Six-Toed Jesus, available from Amazon.
Image: Creative Commons