I have recently seen a figure published that there are nearly 200 million English-language blog sites on the web, and that worldwide the total begins to approach one billion. —http://www.rickmylander.com/2013/01/blog-blah-blah.html?m=1
This is the way a friend of mine introduces his new blog. Imagine, 200 million English-language blog sites, nearly 1 billion world-wide. If we added in emails, tweets, Facebook posts, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and the myriad of other electronic outlets for our thoughts, how many words per minute pouring out of us do you suppose that represents? So many of us with so much to say. This blog is but one more…
For the sake of brevity, let me label everything “spoken” into the electronic world by humanity as iSpeak.
Is it that the billions of us iSpeaking away really have something to say? Is my voice so different from the others that my words find a unique place among the billions of billions of words being iSpoken into the aether? Well, yes. Ultimately, I do think we each have something unique to say. After all, we are each unique persons who see the world just a little differently than the other. My voice, yours, too, is indeed unique in this universe.
Here is an odd turn in the road that my mind is walking: the connection between iSpeaking and casual sex. About casual sex, philosopher Joseph Pieper says this: “The encounter that is sheer sex and nothing else has rightly been called deceptive in character. For the moment, an illusion of union arises; but without love this apparent union of two strangers leaves them more remote from each other than they were before” (Faith, Hope, Love).
Is iSpeaking like having the deceptive casual sex as Pieper describes, an experience that leaves strangers farther apart? I think so. Consider Margaret Guenther’s thought from her terrific book, Holy Listening: “In a way, not to be heard is not to exist.”
In a way, not to be heard is not to exist.
Loneliness is perhaps both our fundamental condition and fundamental fear. It is our fundamental condition because we are estranged from God who made us; it is only in relationship with Him that we find our true identity. To be truly alone is to be unaffirmed as a human, do be, well, as though dead. Sadly, this is our deepest condition. We are estranged from each other and, if we are honest, from ourselves. Even Christians, those who have accepted the act of Jesus on the cross as God’s act of overcoming the estrangement, find ourselves struggling with loneliness as we long to be with God, face-to-face.
So, what has all this to do with iSpeaking? A speaker without a listener is like Pieper’s two deceived, casual lovers. Broadcasting my words into the electronic aether deceives me into thinking I matter, that I’m not alone. However, with no listener is that really true?
A quick test: how many of you fellow iSpeakers are disappointed when no one “likes,” “follows,” or “comments” on your words? Surely you feel it…particularly if you have iSpoken something important to you. Perhaps you have only some who follow you; perhaps you have a legion. How many followers is enough to make you feel as though you matter? I wager that the number will never be high enough to make us feel as though we exist.
If Guenther is right, and I think she is, then we may iSpeak all we want, we may even garner a multitude of followers; yet, without being heard it is as though we don’t exist. Could it be that billions of words that we iSpeak acutually come out of our own desperate need to be heard? At the depths of our individual souls aren’t we each searching for someone to listen, someone who will say to us, “What you says matters; you exist”? I want someone to affirm that it is good that I exist; this is the bedrock of what it means to be loved, which is our most fundamental need. And being heard is a cornerstone of the goodness of my existence being affirmed.
Our need to be loved extends beyond the electronic iWorld and into the rWorld (real world). So many people speaking, so much verbal noise, so much information to convey, so much to do, hurry, hurry, HURRY… We are growing deaf to each other. Do any of us really hear? Or, with no listeners are we all in danger of becoming extinct to each other?
Another test: Name a person in your life who really hears you, who lets you finish a thought even if it means periods of silence; a person who will let you feel what you feel without trying to correct or fix you. In my experience few can name such a person.
All is not lost. There is a way out of the noise.
We can practice hospitality. Sure, it is an old fashioned notion. Webster defines hospitality as the act of receiving another in a kind and liberally generous manner without expecting a reward. But, we’ve no time for hospitality these days. We move too fast and are too tightly scheduled. Productivity reigns. The ancient idea of leisure, contemplating something for its own sake, is gone. And yet listening, at its core, is the best kind of leisurely hospitality. It is the hospitality of making room within your own soul to invite the other in as you listen.
iSpeaking has its place. I write because it helps me think and I post it because perhaps another wonders about the same things. But, I will fall into despair if I hope to have my existence affirmed in this way; while you may read this, I can never really know whether I have been heard by you.
So, find another human being and practice hospitality. Hear their words, notice their voice inflections, see their body language, look into their eyes, quiet your own desire to be heard, talk as little as you need, ignore your desire to fix them, be attentive to your own internal responses as they talk allowing your emotions and feelings to connect with theirs…offer the hospitality of inviting them in to your very soul. Give the other the very, very rare gift of being heard. For a short time, one fewer voice in the world will not be missed.