A Brief Reflection on Being Unheard

The other day I was reflecting on being unheard. It has been on my mind as of late, especially at work. I work with students who are diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, and a host of other mental and physical handicaps. They are the less-abled, not the disabled. Some can’t speak at all; others who can aren’t always articulate, understandable, or coherent. One must learn the methods of communication these children have at their disposal; it is often a difficult task requiring much time and presence. Messiness, frustration, and the occasional physical outburst from my students are all too often the results of being unheard.

Furthermore, I am working under new situations where the overall context and climate of my environment are in flux. Any upheaval is difficult as change can often shift us from an ecology of like-mindedness and direction to one of (initial) chaos and confusion. As wrinkles get ironed out, the changes still leave us stressed. Again, as with my students, the reality of being unheard lies at the core of this new stress for me and my coworkers.

And, so I wonder. I wonder how being unheard plays itself out in this drama called human life. The following is what I wrote in my back pocket journal on October 3 as I sat in our sensory room with a student who needed to be heard:

The act of listening is essential to being human. Listening to others and being listened to are reciprocal acts that flow from an incarnational, kenotic type of life – real life. They are the opposite of power plays in that they take patience and self-denial. We can’t listen well while pursuing our own agenda.

Thus, the only act of listening we can take a hold of is listening to others. We can’t force others to listen to us. It take the posture of love (kenosis) to practice listening.

Underlying this posture is an understanding to know the means of communication employed by the one speaking. We can’t listen well without first observing. We can’t make sense of communication if we don’t take time to know how/why others communicate. If we depend on verbal communication alone, we’ll miss the majority of what is being conveyed.

This is especially true in the world of Special Education. If we can’t take the time to inhabit the spaces and lives of the less-abled, we’ll never know what they’re communicating. And if we don’t understand their communication we won’t be able to listen. And if we can’t listen, they’ll be unheard. And to be unheard is to be relegated to that which is less than human. And when we deem others as less human, we degrade ourselves as well.

I wonder how often God feels unheard. After all, the first power play was an act of not listening in a garden. Perhaps we would do well to begin to imagine God as the One Unheard. Perhaps that is what allowed Jesus to identify with the unheard of his day.

How has being unheard played out in your life?

What stories of being unheard can you easily recall?

Who in your life is one who is unheard?