Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Saturday 06 March |
Saint of the Day: St. Colette
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

The key to avoiding distraction … from a 6th-century monk

St. Benedict

AFP Photo

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 09/03/17

Must-read advice for discussing contentious issues in person and on the web.

Do you ever feel like we’re all talking past each other? Even in friendly conversations I notice times when I’m simply waiting for a pause so I can interject a new topic of conversation and hold court about it. In other words, I’m not so willing to pay attention to what other people are saying so much as I want to talk at them. It gets worse when talking to strangers or debating a contentious topic. We talk at each other, not with each other, and are distracted by our own preconceived ideas. How can we be less distracted and more attentive, to take more of an interest in and be more open-minded about the opinions and concerns of others?


WELLNESS,HEALTH,SAINTS,COMP

Read more:
5 Saints with surprising health habits

St. Benedict asked himself the same question. After all, he was trying to create a focused, peaceful, familial environment for a bunch of unruly monks who, even though they’d entered a monastery, had their own struggles with community life. In his “rule of life” for his men, he actually begins by addressing this topic.

Here is the very first word of the entire Benedictine Rule – Listen.

Benedict writes, “Listen and incline the ear of your heart.” In the beginning of any conversation or venture, before we act or speak, the best place to begin is to be quiet for a moment and listen. We might listen to other people, ask for advice, or hear hard words that we don’t like but are nevertheless important. Or we might listen to God, allow distractions to fall away, be sure we’ve considered all options, or take time to sleep on a big decision. Basically, listening is taking time to hear in a certain way, with an attitude of openness, and a commitment to devote your whole self to the process, as Benedict writes, by “inclining the ear of your heart.”

This is great advice because obstacles are all around, so we need to be intentional about overcoming them. In fact, as I’m typing this I’m listening to music on my computer, checking my phone for random texts, and switching tabs to check email (okay, I closed it all!). Even when talking to a friend, the temptation to slowly reach into your pocket, grab the phone, and take a quick look to see if any texts came through is almost irresistible. Distraction is available 24/7, and even when we cut through it, we might not like what we hear, like conflicting perspectives or that sinking feeling in your heart that you have to do the right thing even though it isn’t advantageous. This is why Benedict talks about listening with “obedience,” and in the context of the monks in the monastery he notes how important it is to listen to the “Father.” In other words, an important first step is to put the ego aside.


St. Benedict

Read more:
St. Benedict’s advice for beating the blues

Putting the ego aside and attending to a person with the whole heart means the willingness to focus not only on those who have already earned our respect, but also to maintain a general attitude of openness. This is why, whenever anything of importance is to be decided, Benedict instructs his monks: “Let the Abbot assemble the whole community. … Moreover, we have said that all are to be called to counsel because it is often to the younger that the Lord reveals what is better.” Don’t judge the source. Benedict even goes so far as to recommend listening to strangers when he says that if a visitor “points out anything reasonably and with humble charity… weigh the matter prudently.”

All of this is great advice for a guy like me who definitely needs to practice listening more attentively and cutting out distractions in my life to better use my whole heart to discern the next step forward. It’s also great advice for our wider society as we are increasingly engaging in public debate over contentious issues. Wouldn’t it be great if we all stopped talking past each other and really, truly listened? Who knows what minds be changed or consensus reached, but even if there are no immediate practical results there will always be the knowledge that we have truly heard each other, perhaps for the first time.

Tags:
RelationshipsSpiritual Life
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
GUARDIAN ANGEL
Philip Kosloski
10 Mysterious things to know about guardian angels
2
tabernacle
Philip Kosloski
5 Important things to notice in a Catholic church
3
POPE AUDIENCE
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Do you know the 3 words that describe God’s style? Pope Fra...
4
Ziggurat of Ur
John Burger
Pope’s trip to Iraq is like a pilgrimage to a Holy Land
5
SAINT JOSEPH AND CHILD JESUS
Philip Kosloski
10 Things you should know about St. Joseph
6
WEB2-MANIFESTATIONS-BIRMANIE-TWITTER.jpg
John Burger
Nun and monk put themselves between police and protesters in Myan...
7
ANGEL
Philip Kosloski
Should you name your Guardian Angel?
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.