Source: Sherman Publications

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Spiritual Matters
Understanding comes from listening

August 07, 2013

My friend, Sister Anne, used to work in a children's home where she helped to teach and guide the children. She's retired now. She lived in an upstairs apartment that was in the town near where she worked.

One day, after she came home from her work and had prepared her evening meal, she spotted a man outside her window on the sidewalk leaning against a sign post. He was somewhat bedraggled, looking depressed and hungry.

Sister Anne took pity on the poor man and decided she wanted to help him. So, she took out a ten dollar bill, put it in an envelope, wrote "Don't despair" on the envelope and tossed it out the window where it landed at his feet.

The man saw the envelope, picked it up and looked around. Seeing Sister Anne standing in the window he had a quizzical look on his face. He read the envelope, opening it up he found the ten dollar bill. Smiling, he looked up at Sister Anne, waved and then headed off down the street. Having accomplished her good deed for the day, she thought no more of it.

The next day, after Sister Anne had come home, she heard a knock at her door. She opened it to find the man standing there. He handed her back the envelope which now had $50 in it. Confused, she asked "What's this?" The man smiled and said, "Don't Despair paid 5 to 1!"

It's funny how often we think we know what we are saying and doing, but when it comes back to us it has taken on a whole new meaning.

I've heard it said that Americans and the British are two peoples who are separated by a common language. You say bonnet, I say hood. You say boot, I say trunk. You say lift, I say elevator. We use the same words but they have different meanings.

The same can be said of men and women. Deborah Tannen, in her book You Just Don't Understand, relates the example of a husband and wife traveling on the freeway. Seeing an exit coming that had a truck stop, the wife asks if he would like to stop and get something to eat. He says "no" and drives past the exit. At the next exit she asks the same question with the same result. After the third time this happens, she got angry and accuses the husband of not caring about her or her needs

She was hungry and ready to stop for a break from the traveling. He wasn't. She asked a question, he answered it. She wasn't looking for an answer but to start a conversation. He was focused on results; she was interested in building relationship. We use the same words but they have different meanings.

Everyone has had different life experiences; we've grown up in different communities, different households, different faith traditions, different cultures. No one has had the same life experiences as another person. So we cannot truly understand where another is coming from when they say and do the things they say and do.

I believe that most of the world's troubles and our own would be lessened if we just learned to really listen. Not just hear, but attempt to understand. If we don't know where others are coming from we can't understand their words or actions.

We have a choice. We can choose to live in ignorance, anger and resentment, prejudging others based upon our own limited life experiences and understandings.

Or, we can choose to understand that all people are doing the best that they can with what they have where they are; we can choose to practice charity, patience and tolerance of others; this is the way of love. "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them." 1John 4:16. "Choose this day whom who shall serve… as for me and my household we shall serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15.

Blessings of peace, joy & love

Matthew E. Long is senior minister

at Peace Unity Community.