Saturday, February 6, 2010

Are You Listening?

Jo Anne took me to Costco a while back to see if I needed Hearing Aids or was just tired of listening to her and tuning her out on purpose. Thankfully, the Costco Hearing Aid technician saved me. After an extensive test, he revealed to us that indeed I had lost 25 to 30% of my ability to hear in both ears. He recommended a pair of $1000 Hearing Aids, but when I tried them out all I could hear was the swooshing noise my ventilator makes as I breathe. I pretty much had to choose either breathing or hearing better, so I immediately opted for breathing. Much to my chagrin Jo Anne hesitated for some time weighing the options, but also finally agreed that maybe breathing was just a little bit more important than hearing well. I was very relieved!

However, I believe hearing well and especially listening carefully to others is almost as important as breathing. When I think of the people I enjoy visiting with the most it is invariably with those who really listen to me and seem genuinely interested in what I have to say. When I am in a crowded place like Costco for example, most people don't pay much attention to me but on occasion a random individual will approach me and say, "Wow, what an incredible wheelchair you have. How does it work?" And then they really listen and ask even more questions like "What happened to you anyway?" Whenever I have these experiences with strangers my life is enriched because they are validating me as a human being and a person of worth through their desire to hear and listen and understand.

Jo Anne is a good listener. She hears everything I say and many times things I don't say or didn't think I said. On occasion since my accident, we have had some heated conversations about various topics and just as I am about to make a winning argument she will reach over and pull my air hose off my throat -- end of conversation, end of empathetic listening -- end of life?

Many years ago I learned a great lesson about the importance of listening. I was teaching seminary at the Utah State Industrial School in Ogden, Utah, which in reality was a prison for juvenile delinquents who had run awry of the law.

One year while I was teaching there I would go to the maximum security unit once each day to teach a class to the boys incarcerated there because they were considered to be dangerous or a security risk. They wore blue jeans, white T-shirts, tennis shoes with no laces, and were extremely depressed and unhappy. Several guards watched them 24 hours a day from a glass booth strategically positioned so that the kids were never out of earshot or sight.

Almost all the boys attended my class, not because I was a great teacher, but because I didn't work for the state and therefore had no power over them. It was a diversion for them, to have someone like me visit them while they were doing their time in maximum security.

After a very simple lesson regarding fundamental principles of life like working instead of stealing, being honest instead of lying, respecting the sanctity of life, etc., I would stay another hour to do some individual counseling. The boys would frantically gather around me at the conclusion of our formal class saying "Brother Rushton, talk to me today, please talk to me!" I would try to give everyone a fair chance from day to day. I quickly learned however that what they were really saying, instead of "Talk to me, talk to me," was "Listen to me, please listen to me!" I would say very little during those counseling sessions but I would give them my undivided attention. It seemed to help. Their problems were so overwhelming I doubt that even Solomon could have had the wisdom to help solve them. In maximum security I learned how important it was and is to be truly listened to. I got the feeling that many of these disturbed young men had never truly been listened to by a significant adult in their lives. Sad to say, many of these young men died violent and premature deaths or ended up in the state penitentiary. No, they didn't live happily ever after because I listened to them, I hate to report, but at least for a few hours of their lives in maximum security, somebody truly listened to them and it was a soothing balm for their harrowed up souls if only for a brief period of time.

I think perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our spouses, children, and our friends, is to truly listen to them, giving them our undivided attention. Turning off the TV, looking away from our computer screen, closing the book or leaving an important unfinished task to listen to a loved one will convey love like few other things can.

In a wonderful talk that strikes a chord with me (Ensign, May 1991) about the importance of listening, Elder Russell M. Nelson, among other things counseled:

"A wise father once said, “I do a greater amount of good when I listen to my children than when I talk to them...The time to listen is when someone needs to be heard...Parents with teenage youth may find that time for listening is often less convenient but more important when young people feel lonely or troubled. And when they seem to deserve favor least, they may need it most...some couples seem not to listen to one another... If marriage is a prime relationship in life, it deserves prime time! Yet less important appointments are often given priority, leaving only leftover moments for listening to precious partners..."

Breathing or listening is a hard call. But just as breathing gives life to the body, so does listening give life to all the precious relationships we have in mortality.

Many years ago as I was lying in a hospital bed in the ICU of our local regional trauma center and learned that I had lost forever, in mortality anyway, the use of my physical body, I realized that the only thing that meant anything to me in that moment was the relationships I had with my family, my friends, and the Lord. Nothing else I had accomplished in my life, no worldly possession, no degrees or honors of men meant anything to me. If learning to listen better can strengthen all those relationships, how we ought to work at it! Are you listening?



Cam said...

Thank you for more sound advice delivered in an entertaining style.

Sue said...

Jack: I saw that only one person had commented & couldn't believe there weren't more! I just was introduced to you today thru a U-Tube video someone sent me. What a great sense of humor that God has blessed you with. I cannot imagine going through what you have without that invaluable tool!I admire the fact that you have shared your story with others to remind us all that life is not only worth living, but that life is NOT about us living it at all, but more, about God living through us FOR life to others. You would not have had such a platform on U-Tube if not for your wheelchair and grand sense of humor, and by doing so, you've reached others that would normally never hear what you have to say to 'them'. Thanks for the reminder to listen more than to speak, esp. to those who neeed to talk (ie, kids in prison). Thanks also for the reminder of how beautiful the sunrise is, how God inspiring the colors are and how those of us who can still 'see' with our eyes are at no more of an advantage than those who can see with their hearts. You have obviously been given the gift of acute observation that can put thoughts into words; what a blessing too.
Jack, thank you for also reminding us to stop, take time to "notice" and "validate" others who we might be somewhat uncomfortable around. What a lovely picture of Jesus Himself to stop for the forgotten and outcast. And lastly, for reminding us that life isn't about 'us' but about what we can do for others. There is always someone going through a harder trial than we are; someone always walking without feet when we are just without shoes... God's blessings upon you always Jack to reach & inspire the world through His heart for others. :)

Bertie said...

Hello Jack,

I, too, heard of you through a U-Tube video that a friend sent me.

What an inspiration you are!! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and wonderful Christian attitude.

I've sent your video to all of my children and friends.

I hope I have a chance to meet you in person some day.


Nevadanne said...

Hey, Jack! I, as well, was just introduced to you through youtube. You are wonderful. Loved what you said about listening. In the past people have commented on how hard it is to get men to talk and open up...I don't seem to have that problem with the men I talk to, but I do have a problem with them listening. All they want to do is talk and have me listen...I'd like it to work the other way as well. I am an elementary school teacher and teach my students the lesson that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Keep up the good work, Jack. I can't wait to hear more from you...I'll be listening! ♥

Bonnie Mason said...

Dear Jack Rushton,
I love you. I am 6.

(Typed with help from his mom and dad.)

ionamin-W8FW8 said...

I first read about you in The Religious Educator, and now have discovered your blog. I enjoy reading your "pearls of wisdom." having a daughter that is a C-2 quad, I can relate to so much of what you say! You are a blessing to many people.
Diane Johnson

ShalomSerene said...

I would like to suggest that your webmaster install a Subscribe button that will allow folks to get your posts by email. I would love to have this myself!
It is interesting that in the last several days I have been studying and praying to learn more about being an Ambassador of Messiah and how to keep my perspective eternal. As you know, YHVH/God is always sending us messages, and I know He sent me to your YouTube video. Thank you, my brother in Yahushua/Jesus, for letting Him use you to help me and so many others!
Blessed, healthy, prosperous & FREE BE,
B'Shem Yahushua (in the Name of Jesus),
with love & shalom from

Gary and Debi Whiting said...

Dear Bro. Rushton,
I was in "Grand Land Singers" from 1976-77. I also knew you before that--when you and your family lived in Alhambra. Have you heard that Alhambra Ward is having a 75th year Jubliee reunion on October 9, 2010? It would be great to see you there.
God bless you!
~Debi Greenwood (Daughter of Richard and Doris Greenwood of Alhambra)

Andrea said...

I think you are awesome!! :) Have a blessed day.

Karl, Becky and Greta said...

Mr Rushton - Saw your You Tube video which is awesome and immediately went to your blog. I LOVE this entry about listening. I can't wait to read more.
I am a Physical Therapist at a trauma center and am blessed to witness people overcoming challenges that turn lives upside-down. It really is amazing what people are capable of and what God provides.
I have so enjoyed your inspiring words (and yes, wisdom:)) and look forward to checking in on your page and what's going on in your life from time to time. Thank you so much.
-Becky Kraywinkle