Sensitivity to Sound

Why sometimes it's easier to simply not hear

My dad was hard of hearing. He was robbed of a sensitivity to sound. Most of my life, I remember his struggle to comprehend the things that were said in his presence. Regrettably, because of the pitch of my voice in later years, he could barely understand anything I said even if I shouted. He was frustrated. I was frustrated.

 

Over time, a more frustrating condition emerged. Living with a diminished sensitivity to conversation, his mind was trained to believe that he couldn’t hear.

That frustrated me, too, because I wanted to have rich talks with my father. He wasn’t a man of many words. He was wise and kind and practical. I’d give anything to sit with him now, ask questions, and hear how his life was shaped by his faith and his love for people. I’m grateful because, in this case, his actions did speak more loudly than his words. I am blessed by my witness to his life.

I understand his world more now. I’m hard of hearing. Loud music and drumming in my early years left me with tinnitus and some hearing impairment. Having technological assistance in hearing has been a wonderful blessing and a great curse. I can hear better in most settings. In others, I cringe. I’ve never liked crowds and loud events. Now, being at a concert, a sports event, or, sometimes, even at church, creates an anxiety that is difficult to handle. That, plus the fact that the hearing aids, despite the valiant efforts of my audiologist, don’t fit well and are uncomfortable, leads me to remove them.

And in those times, the strong voice I can hear is that of my mind telling me that I cannot hear. That can be a comfortable world. For the most part, I choose not to ask people to repeat what they’ve said. I just move on without knowing.

I don’t think that my situation is simply one of physical limitation. I know people who live with significant hearing impairment. And they choose to engage. Even in the throes of silence, they hear. Some do it with presence and patience. Others grapple with their condition with outspoken boldness.

Whether blessed with good hearing or not, we live in a world of rich noises and communication. At times symphonic and at times cacophonic, the swirling pulse of words and music and collision and gentle rustling is Creation’s desire to bring understanding and peace. When we become purposefully deaf, we turn our back on the blessing of community with all around us.

Many of us lament earlier days where harmony was not just a melodic ideal but a benchmark for community. We are saddened by the rhetoric of our leaders and the hardness of hearing and heart of our neighbors. We find ourselves drawn to our own quiet places where the only voices and sounds we hear are the ones that echo our own. We choose not to listen.

As a result, we find it simpler to choose not to speak.

Withdrawing from the world of sound, either as a result of our sensitivity or insensitivity robs us of the unique blessing of sharing. It’s easier. But it cancels our contribution to the greater good. Speak. Contribute. Make some music.

Talk About What Matters

A lot of disgusting talk swirls around us. It’s always been here because people have placed a high value on status. We don’t have to be the very best at anything — just prove ourselves better than others.

Yet, many of those who are the best are those who spend no energy on aggrandizing themselves. In fact, in their quest for excellence in their chosen pursuit, they help others along the way.

I hear — and personally feel — much despair over the tone of our public conversations. We have focused on the rancor in politics, but the same bile is spewing in all levels of our existence. Many have longed for a societal solution to this poisonous behavior.

Here’s one that isn’t original with me, but one that will change the world even if it doesn’t stop the inane mutterings of our elected officials.

Talk about individuals. Tell stories of tragedy and losses balanced with victory and gains. Don’t concentrate on the negativity surrounding an event, but on the stories of that woman, child, or man who stepped forward to do something good.

Those are the stories that matter. The news about the awful things will be framed in the telling of what is good. And that will be talk that matters.

Seeing the Other Side

I’ve seen the other side. And I don’t like it.

The problem with the other side is that it is the other side. It’s not my side. It doesn’t fit my view of how things should be. The other side grates against who I am and, tellingly, what I want everyone to be.

That would be fine — if everything on my side was perfect. Of course, it’s not.

But on my side, I can overlook the puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit the picture and I can gloss over the flaws I sometimes notice as simple mistakes and inadvertent blunders.

As I peer across the street from within my glass house . . . as I heft the rock that will shatter my neighbor’s world . . . as I wonder how those around me can be so misguided . . . I find myself believing that most other people have something wrong with them.

In moments like that, I am redeemed only by a glance in the mirror and the stark realization that I, with judgment on my heart and contempt on my lips, am far more disturbing than those whose ideals and behaviors I have come to detest.

For you see, I know that the only person I can absolutely change is me. And the steadfast refusal to move toward something better is a personal and spiritual defeat.

Fixing News – A Simple Plan to Build Trust

Making America a little more great

As a mediator, one of my jobs is to look for ways that people can sit at the same table to negotiate. That can be made difficult by the negotiating tactics of one or both parties. One of the things that makes President Trump attractive to his constituents is his refusal to operate by long-standing rules of decorum and practices as President. He effectively uses social media to speak directly to the American people and the world. Some of those communications have value and others merely allow him to vent. His constant message of late is that the major media outlets manufacture fake news. In return, the media points out the major inconsistencies in the information that comes out of the Trump administration and voices their frustration. I’m not sure whether anyone has thought through the possibilities of fixing news — at least in a way that begins to satisfy the foundational purposes that drive our need for news.

Since I’ve decided to make an effort to be as objective as I can about the present state of our nation, I want to share my observations.

First, the news media taken as a whole is a mess. When news became a business, a significant amount of attention shifted to “selling newspapers.” This was a natural shift in that the gathering, analysis, and distribution of news is an expensive proposition and, since we believe there is tremendous potential for bias in a government-controlled press, we had to find a way to fund it. Unfortunately, in a free market environment, the competition for larger market share and the money that flows as a result often drive new organization from the solid ground of professional reporting to the edges of sensationalism.

Even when sensationalism isn’t the focus, other organizations drift to the right or left dependent on the political leanings of their ownership groups. Such alignment is natural and should be acceptable. We accept it in regard to politicians. So news people, just like anyone else, should be able to claim their political spot. But journalists should operate within the boundaries of truthfulness and accurate reporting.

I believe that the majority of news outlets have professional journalists dedicated to reporting the news accurately and asking vital questions. Let’s let them do their jobs — perhaps in a little different way.

Second, President Trump’s reliance on the surprise factor — his penchant for keeping everyone off balance — has put him in the White House. Yet, for those who listen carefully to what he says and watch what he does, that mode of operation has made him a highly questionable source of solid, factual information. Some say that is part of his genius. Others assert that it is only the vestiges of his ego and perhaps a more serious mental disorder. Looking at it objectively, his methods have been successful in keeping his opponents and, to a large degree, the American public guessing. I believe we are also hearing the uncertainty of world leaders building. The unpredictability of President Trump is a negotiating strategy. I teach negotiation. Most often, a prolonged assertion of unpredictability into the negotiation process is considered a hardball tactic. Equally seasoned negotiators either respond in kind or refuse to continue the game.

The news media has tried the hardball tactic. The results have been comical and would indeed be funny if the future of the nation and the world weren’t at stake. But aggressively arguing with a man who refuses to embrace the value of truth and accuracy is futile. Frankly, even if that is merely his negotiating strategy, it should be disturbing when basic honesty is cast aside merely to win. And, to be objective, we must admit there is some of that same game being played from within some of the news outlets.

So, my simple plan to fix news is this and is directed entirely to the news media. Here’s the more complex version of the simple plan.

  1. Observe and report on exactly what President Trump and his administration say and do.
  2. Go to his news conferences and listen. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bait him or be baited by him. When the prepared remarks end, close your notepads and walk away.
  3. When reporting on the President, present solid, fact-based data regarding what he says and does.
  4. Continue to seek out and even employ analysts who speak to the possible meaning of the history that is unfolding around us. Report their thoughts accurately and honestly.
  5. Seek other sources for news. Go to elected leaders and ask questions. Let political leaders enter into the debate and argument with the President. Give them a bigger share of the coverage.
  6. Report on alternatives that emanate from other political leaders and citizens. Give an objective score sheet to the American people to choose the leadership and direction of our country.
  7. Don’t rely on unnamed sources. We are beyond the moment when people who care about important things should remain anonymous.
  8. Be proud of what you do. The role of the news media is an important one. Don’t let negotiation tactics keep you off balance.

The simple version is this:

Respect the office of the President. Don’t play games with someone who has thrown away the rule book. If the game is based entirely on misdirection, you will never win unless you are better at creating confusion through misdirection. Create a new game with new rules. Observe, be fair, and distance yourself. Find alternative reliable sources and offer your readers and audiences the opportunity to decide who they will trust.

Escaping Insanity – The Case for Unequivocated Withdrawal

Until recent years, I haven’t been much of a “cause person.” While I recognized both the advantages and disadvantages of some of my friends’ life passions, I found it much easier to simply rock along in the sweet spot of non-commitment and relative peace. Avoidance — absolute withdrawal — was a safe haven that not only kept me far from strife and harsh words, but it also allowed me the luxury of inaction. Looking back, it also became my source of fuel to channel my attention to less than noble things. Not necessarily bad things, but not the best investment of my relatively short time on this planet.

I now see the need and the potential power of many causes. My life has been blessed with friends and acquaintances who are different from me in gender, race, religion, and lifestyle. As I have set aside time to listen to them and have come to love them deeply, I have become deeply provoked by an underlying thread of their stories. I have come to know my privilege as a white male living in a society that still leans in my direction.

My parents and some godly mentors taught me to work hard. I have tried to do that every day of my adult life — undoubtedly to a fault sometimes. I am not undeserving of what I have from that effort. Yet, I am undeserving of the advantages that have made that so much easier than it has been for others.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment is watching the unhealthy ways that we engage in conflict and disagreement. Oh, that I could throw the first stone in condemning and eradicating the utter nonsense of this behavior and the rancor that escalates in its wake. But I can’t.

Deep within me I feel the anger and the frustration when facing opinions different from mine and actions foreign to what I believe is right and good. In those moments, I begin to see those who differ from me in an alarming way. My inner being tells me they are inferior to me in both mental ability and moral grounding. In doing that, I sin.

One way to address sin is to flee. The Bible tells us that. In my experience, the Word of God doesn’t tell us everything, however. Pieces of our prescriptions from the divine are absent leaving us space to explore and to fill in the gaps with unfathomable opportunities to learn the spirit of our Creator. Pieces are absent, but not missing.

I grieve a bit when I venture into social media and watch people I know attack and vilify others. In the past week, I have seen total strangers with a common friend on Facebook turn on each other. Assumptions, accusations, and character assassinations boil quickly to the surface. Sometimes the violence of unruly protesters pales in comparison with what is said and done in this virtual world.

Yesterday, viewing the reactions around the country from the inauguration, I hovered over the “Deactivate My Account” button. My heart was breaking over the venom and reckless rhetoric. Total avoidance seemed the only answer.

Many of my friends have left social media because of the emotions I felt yesterday. I bless them in that decision. Most of those I know well will not withdraw completely from the deeper conversations. They have simply recognized the discord that the unique and challenging environment of social media presents.

I could make that same decision and it would greatly improve my outlook and, perhaps, even my service to others.

However, if I left social media today, I would lose much. When you place yourself in solitary places constantly, you lose touch with others and, too often, your own capacity for compassion and love. I tend to be an introvert and have no problem spending time alone. In earlier periods of my life, I’ve seen my own compassion and love quotients drained away as a result.

Jesus’ ministry on this earth was tumultuous. And so often, he would withdraw to a quiet place to talk to and listen to God. He would then emerge and face the challenges of his countercultural life with grace, love, and passion for the oppressed.

His example, of course, shows balance. Each of us have a different balance point. I am prayerful in my quest for that divine meeting place carved out by our Maker.

However you choose to interact, whatever conversations you invest in, never hesitate to withdraw to a place from time to time that stokes the fire of your grace, love, and passion.