Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Unable To Hear

Recently I received a call from somebody I wasn't expecting.  Just 20 minutes earlier I was told that somebody from their office would be calling me regarding a number of issues surrounding person X.  I was expecting a call from person A regarding person X.  Well, I received a call from person B regarding person Y, but about all the same issues yet in a different situation.  I wasn't expecting person B or a conversation about Y, and since the syllable structure of B's name was very similar to person A, my mind substituted A for B.  It took a few minutes of talking to realize my mistake.

A couple of classic examples of this from my past came to mind.  Years ago I took a trip to Haiti to visit one of our church missionaries who was working in a medical clinic there.  A few weeks before leaving I bumped into a co-worker in my company's office kitchen and she said, "Steve, I notice your name on the vacation calendar.  Are you going anywhere?"  I replied that I was going to Haiti.  Her face lit up and in an excited tone she said, "Oh, you'll just love Tahiti.  My husband and I went there on our honeymoon, and it was wonderful!"  I corrected her misunderstanding and said it was Haiti, not Tahiti.  Her face contorted into a twisted mass of quickly approaching upset stomach.  She was unable to hear my original word because people simply don't go to Haiti on vacation.  She substituted the best sounding alternative, Tahiti. 

Another time, I was approached by a major TV ratings company to be a participant in their ratings systems.  I was interviewed and asked for a bunch of information.  One question was how many hours of television I watched per week.  Squinting one eye and whispering to myself as I counted on my fingers for the next few moments, I replied "five."  The interviewer, clipboard in hand, said, "Great.  Five times seven is thirty five" as she charted my habit.  "Now, next question.  What do you..."  I interrupted her and said that I was asked the number of hours I watched during a week and I said five.  "Yes," she said, "five hours a day times seven days a week equals 35 hours per week."  I corrected her again, saying that five was the number of hours per week that I watched, which is what she asked, not per day.  She was so dumbfounded that she sat motionless for several minutes, then shuffled through her briefcase for a few more, until finally she asked if she could use the phone.  After the call was over, she said she was sorry, that there was a minimum number of viewing hours necessary to be part of their ratings system.  She was unable to hear my response to her question, because in her experience, an American simply doesn't watch only five hours per week.  Even though I answered her question exactly as she asked it, and even though I corrected her the first time, she still wasn't able to get my answer.

All of this is to point out that we can have the same inability to hear when it comes to what God has given us in the bible.  We can have this inability when discussing things with others.  I think sometimes people disagree not because they understand the other person's argument and refute it.  They simply cannot hear what the one person is saying.  It can be so contrary to their experience, to what they've been taught (over and over) that it simply doesn't register.  Even though that in the three examples I gave above there was an ultimate ability to understand through correction, I'm thinking that there can be things so ingrained in people that the inability to hear something for what is said will always be there.  Short of a work of God, of course.  Sometimes it is useless to explain your side of the story to somebody, because they'll never understand.  They can't.  So, in these situations, learning to let them alone and leave it up to God might be the best thing that can be done.

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