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National Day of Listening

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Did you know that today is a holiday?  And I don’t mean “Black Friday?”  I only recently learned that StoryCorps has informally designated today, the day after Thanksgiving, as the “National Day of Listening.”  One might hope that we actually listen to each other EVERY day.  But, then again, we might hope that we are grateful EVERY day, so why do we need a day set aside for giving thanks, Thanksgiving?  It’s always important to be reminded of these critical values.  Just as we remind ourselves of the fundamental nature of gratitude, so we remind ourselves of the fundamental nature of listening.  We say the Shema three times a day, reminding ourselves to listen.  “Shema Yisrael”- people of Israel- “listen!”  And yet, we discover, listening doesn’t necessarily come naturally.  Listening is a real skill and one we can improve through attentive listening and practice.

“StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this, they continue,  to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”[1]

Storycorps is especially focused on sharing stories between generations.  We can actually re-imagine much of the Torah as capturing the earliest stories of our ancestors. The stories of those who have gone before us make us who we are.   How often do we lose loved ones and regret that their stories died with them? The National Day of Listening is the perfect opportunity to hear these stories.

In the E-Chai this week are two of many resources that are available to support us in eliciting stories from our elders and family members.  One is 52 questions in 52 weeeks, and the other is an article on “8 Questions That Will Elicit Your Family History.”  In this challenging pandemic moment when we may not be able to see each other in-person, we can deepen our conversation and listen to each other.  Today is the National Day of Listening.

Why are we not better listeners?  We are impatient- waiting for our turn to speak instead of opening our hearts.  We are distracted- too much to do and not enough time to do it.  We are judgmental-  we think we know what someone is going to say so why bother listening?  We have so many rationalizations for not giving each other the blessed gift of our full and undivided attention.  The magic words in any relationship, according to my Army colleague Chaplain Val Sutter, are these, “I hear you, and I understand.”  I hear you, and I understand.  “Listening,” writes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “lies at the very heart of relationship. . . .Listening is the climate in which love and respect grow.”[2]

Attentive listening does NOT mean giving advice, dismissing feelings, interrogating, and definitely not one-upping!  It DOES mean getting curious, reflecting, breathing, connecting.[3]

We all intuitively know what good listening feels like.  Eye contact, head nodding, relaxed shoulders, no technology.  It feels GREAT when someone truly listens to us with love and caring.  What a wonderful gift to give each other- much better than anything we could buy on a Black Friday sale.

Coming, as we are, on the heels of an election season in which an entire country evidenced the divisiveness of an inability to listen to each other, I guess that a National Day of Listening is in order.  As 2020 draws to a close, who will you listen to? Whether it’s 52 Questions, 8 Questions, or our own questions, let’s resolve to LISTEN to each other’s stories in the days and weeks ahead.

I’ll conclude by inviting you to listen to the words of Rabbi Sidney Greenberg-

Judaism begins with the commandment “Hear O Israel!” But what does it mean to hear? The person who attends a concert with a mind on business, hears- but does not really hear.

The person who walks amid the songs of birds and thinks only of what will be served for dinner, hears- but does not really hear.

The man who listens to the words of his friend, or his wife, or his child, and does not catch the note of urgency: “notice me, help me, care about me,” hears-but does not really hear.

The person who listens to the news and thinks only of how it will affect business, hears- but does not really hear.

The person who stifles the sound of conscience and thinks “I have done enough already,” hears-but does not really hear.

On this National Day of Listening, let’s listen with kindness, patience, compassion and curiosity- let’s open our hearts as well as our ears.



[1] From the Storycorps website

[2] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Spirituality of Listening,’” from Covenant and Conversation, Eikev 2016

[3] With acknowledgement to Holley Humphrey, “Empathic Listeing”

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