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Eyes to See and Ears to Hear

February 24, 2013

I recently listened to a podcast of the NPR program On Being. The host, Krista Tippett, interviewed Dr. Vincent Harding, a civil rights leader, speech dr hardingwriter, and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King. It was really one of the most uplifting things I’ve listened to in a long time. It was uplifting not because the civil rights movement achieved everything it set out to do and not because race relations in America are finally where they should be – it didn’t and they aren’t – but because the leaders of the movement have not given up. They are still as motivated as ever to do the work necessary to achieve the “beloved community” of which Dr. King so eloquently spoke.

During the interview, a scripture was quoted and it is one with which I am very familiar.  Proverbs 20:12: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, God made them both.” This scripture came up in the context of a discussion about how the younger generation and the older generation do or do not connect.

Ms. Tippett made the observation that although it may not seem an obvious truth, the fact is that many thinking young people have a deep desire to
connect with and learn from their elders. Not because they will be able to tell us how to fix our current problems, but because by hearing their stories, we can apply their wisdom to our current circumstances and make our own stories.

As someone who regularly feels a deep longing to connect with my elders, I was so pleased to hear this observation voiced. However, my experience has been that outside of a religious framework there isn’t really a space for this relationship. Society has transformed so much in such a short time, that those of us who want these relationships and connections have to make an effort to seek them out.

Interestingly, the world has never been more chock-full of “role models” and experts and people offering advice. One could read one self-help book every day for their entire adult lives and still not exhaust the supply. All this to say that there is a plethora of information out there. There is a great deal of difference, though, between information and wisdom. It becomes a bit of a spiritual discipline, then, to have eyes that see and hears that hear true wisdom.

How do we cultivate this discipline? How do we train our eyes and ears to see and hear our elders? How do we learn how to communicate with, listen to, and exchange ideas between generations?

Dr. Harding addresses some of these questions during their conversation. I am continuing to ponder them. In the meantime, I highly recommend giving this program a listen. If you have ever felt overwhelmed by the changes that need to happen to help our country to achieve a more perfect union, or if you have ever felt hopeless when observing those in our society who receive the most attention, I promise that you will feel better about the state of things after listening. It’s easy to forget all the amazing folks who are working in big ways and small ways towards a more equitable future. This served as a much needed and much appreciated reminder.

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