I grew up in a family accustomed to raising their voices. With four kids, some of that was necessary to be heard over the din of everyone else talking.
A good amount had to do with how Mom sought to keep order. When Mom spoke, you listened. Or else.
Having six kids of my own, I’ve developed a big voice. It’s become a joke here, but when a room full of women needs to come to order, I’m often asked to do it because I can be heard over the general clamor of many conversations.
In a one-on-one conversation, however, loud can be construed as anger.
We’re living in a world culture of increasingly angry people. We see anger on the news, among family members, in government offices, on the streets with random people. It’s a reaction to being hurt or misunderstood and is rarely thought out. For me, it often means I haven’t listened well enough to the whole story. To know what’s going on behind an attitude or a comment. It’s easy to take things personally when all I’m thinking about is me.
My husband was raised in a family that didn’t exchange verbal fisticuffs. They’d raise voices because Grandpa was hard of hearing and refused to wear his hearing aids. My family was quicker to engage in loud words. I grew up thinking yelling was the norm. When I married, we didn’t fight fairly. John would listen to my tirades and be silent. When he wouldn’t react, as I expected him to, I got louder.
It’s not all that different from these hurricanes that keep popping up in the Atlantic and the Gulf. Whirling storms that carry a huge punch that grow from nothing. They need the right conditions to increase in size, intensity and become more dangerous. If I focus on my feelings rather than the importance of a relationship, my irritation can escalate out of control. When that happens, I lose the capability of being reasonable and trying to respond with kindness. My words become fast and furious, fueled by emotion, not fact.
None of us has the privilege of omnipotence. I need to be more intentional about engaging in conversations to find out why someone responded the way they did. Why they said something that came across hurtful. Too often, instead of listening, I launch into a counterattack, wanting to wound as deeply as I’ve felt wounded.
Is it a wonder governments don’t get along when individually we won’t sit and listen to one another? When world leaders accuse and point fingers, when everyone talks and nobody listens, there will be disagreement.
Jesus tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Listening fills in the facts behind what we hear. Human anger accomplishes nothing except hurt. It’s the fodder for revenge, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness.
It’s hard to pause and listen when anger has become a way of life. We talk like we want peace. What we really want is our own way.
If we pause to listen, we just may learn a better way.