A religious sister in her column in the Peace Weekly wonders do we really listen to other people with our whole being. She recalls a visit to the New York Museum of Modern Art. What impressed her was not the paintings but the back view of an old couple sitting side by side in conversation, looking at the painting of Pablo Picasso's Virgins of Avignon.
They were paying close attention to each other's words as they looked at the painting. When the wife talked, the husband listened intently, and when the husband talked the wife nodded knowingly. What did these two have so much to talk about before the painting of 5 naked women of Avignon? Seeing this old couple deep in conversation made her reflect on the time they had spent in conversation over the years.
In the sister's lectures, she often asks couples what they talk about. Usually, they talk about the work, the children, some drama they had seen or politics. She mentions Mrs. G, who has been married for 30 years and only talks when her husband talks politics. Usually it's what did you eat? Where are the socks? What will you do tomorrow? Even marriages without problems they don't travel together, don't have the same likes or dislikes, don't have fun together, and rarely see a movie together, or share their hobbies. They talk, but the time for conversation is much less than one would think.
Sometimes she thinks: We talk a lot like a person invited to a talkfest. She also finds it increasingly difficult to be concerned about the one speaking and to be a good listener. Sometimes several people gather to talk and few people listen. It seems like everyone is just waiting their turn to speak. One breaks the flow of the conversation and repeats what has already been said. No listening—people rather talk.
Why are we so good at telling our own stories? Why so difficult to listen? One study found that when you talk about yourself, dopamine, is secreted and we feel good. So who did I meet, what did I eat, where did I go to play, take selfies and post on social media?
Conversation shows concern for others. Caring dialogue is like a beautiful duet. Pay close attention to the person's breathing, eye contact and share your feelings. Above all, when you sing duets, you should listen to your voice so also in speaking.
We need to hear what we are saying. When I listen to what I say, I have the attention to know how the other person is hearing me. What I want to say may make another uncomfortable and hurt. What we say to one person may be heard differently by another person.
Even when a couple gets older, time in conversation can be shared and enjoyed. When our relations with others are not what they should be with conversation and self-reflection we can make amends for our many failures and ask for forgiveness.
'Do you want to listen to the things I want to say?'