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Pope Francis recently said, “Let us not soundproof our hearts.” The image triggered something in me.  I let it rattle around in my head for a bit.

Physical noise in our lives

We are bombarded on all sides with noises. Some of the noises we try to blackout are simply physical sounds with little meaning. Technically we measure these sounds in decibels. They range from

  • 30db – a whisper
  • 50-60db – normal conversation
  • 80db – city traffic
  • 100 db – train or garbage truck
  • 130db – jet take off, rock concert

Depending on the levels we quickly look to block the sound… or flee to soundproofed places.

The noises of polarization

But there is another type of noise we try to block – the noises of polarization. I know of no similar decibel rating scale for these. However, I think you and I can identify some general categories.

They range from shouting matches (perhaps measured in rising blood pressure) to the silence of “cancel culture” (expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.) Or maybe the in-between “I hear you, but I am not listening.

We flee to the comfort of people who “get it”. We build our “gated communities with people who think like us. In doing so, we “sound-proof” our hearts.

Listening has been on Pope Francis’ mind.

In the face of such polarization, the pope encourages us to listen to others as a first step.  He challenges all factions in the church to listen to one another. That is at the heart of why he called for a two-year-long process of listening to one another- and especially the Holy Spirit, rather than hiding our hearts behind soundproofing.

In a homily, Francis said,

“Let us ask:

  • In the church, are we good at listening?
  • How good is the hearing of our heart?
  • Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected or judged?

Let us not soundproof our hearts.”

Before we can listen to others we may need to listen to what we ourselves say … or don’t say.

Sometimes it is called ”listening with the third ear”. You can’t hear what is in another’s heart if you have soundproofed your heart with your own certitudes.

“Oh, but I have not soundproofed my heart!” Really? If you want to know whether you have soundproofed your heart, there are some tell-tale phrases that you should feel comfortable using.

As you read this list, listen to what you say… or don’t say …in difficult conversations. Replay your conversations. Would you be comfortable using the following expressions?

  • “I really appreciate you being willing to discuss this.”
  • “Let’s clarify …”
  • “I’m happy to talk about it, as long as we play cards afterwards.”
  • “I want us to talk even though things might not get resolved.”
  • “Let’s see what we can agree on.”
  • “Thanks for helping me understand where you are coing from.”
  • “Something doesn’t feel right. Let’s talk about it. Would now be okay
  • “You’ve talked about this before, but I want to really understand it.”

This is by no means the best or most complete list.  These are words meant to keep a conversation going.

Rather than judging others, the most important question is how comfortable are you using these or similar phrases. They are phrases used by people who have not soundproofed their hearts to what another is saying.

I think the synodal process is Pope Francis’s way of getting us to down the sound-proofing of our hearts.

When was the last time you listened to what you say… or don’t say?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk 

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