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listenStop. Look. Listen. Think.

You know it, you learned it, you do it – well you do if you’re thinking of your own safety and that of those around you.

It’s a mantra taught in schools, by parents, through the light box in the corner – for us seventies kids it was tufty the squirrel, Charlie the cat and of course Darth Vader himself (aka the Green Cross Code Man, A legend!). It’s been the core mantra of road safety for over 40 years now.

But it is also the key to “community safety”. It’s a four word dance around the central word – Listen.

Listening is difficult, we all know that, for some easier than others. But even for those of us who are blessed (cursed?) with empathic understanding of others listening can be difficult if we are already burdened with too much.

But it is made that little bit easier by using our green cross code.

Because if we are to truly listen we must stop. Stop our busyness, stop everything we’re doing, stop our rushing, stop heading for our goals, just STOP. There are some people – some of them people I love very much, and their “unstoppable Force”-ness is one of the reasons I love them. Without these kind of people, decisions wouldn’t be made, buildings wouldn’t get built, folk wouldn’t get fed – yep, we wouldn’t get much of anything done at all. They are essential to our communities. But, unstoppable forces tend to crush everything that gets in their way; unstoppable forces leave things and people behind – as I’ve said many a time, leaving everything behind isn’t always a good thing; unstoppable leaders, if unchecked, can leave their followers behind – and once alone, they’re just guys going for a walk. To stay in connection with our community, to assess our surroundings, to give time for other folk to catch up, to prevent steam-roller syndrome, we must stop. Only then are we really ready to start listening.

Once we’ve stopped, we can then take the time to look. I mean really look at the people around us. And not just look, but see them. See that they need to talk, see that you can help, see that you can serve. And when you have one person in front of you, when you’ve stopped long enough to lay aside, for the time you’re with them, your own worries, concerns, plans then look at them. Hold their gaze, hold their hand. Look at how they hold themselves, are they tired, are they in pain, are they excited. Depending on which papers, books or web-pages you read, between 80 and 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. And if you’re not looking, you’re not going to get that communication. If you’re not looking, you’re not going to hear the whole story. If you’re not looking at them….who are you looking at instead?

Then of course we come to the actual listening part. Listening with total focus on that person. Listening meaning no expectation of interruption – which might sometimes mean turning your ‘phone off. Actually, today I’m going to turn mine off whilst I listen to my friend. How can 100% of my focus be on him and his story if any moment I can be called away? How can I show him that for that 20 minutes he is the most important thing in the world if there is a call or text that then tells him he isn’t. Because true listening is telling someone that for that moment in time, while you’re holding their gaze, holding their hand and asking questions for clarity that they are, just for then, the only person in the world for you. What better way to say I love you? And yes, don’t be afraid to ask questions, agree or even disagree. Listening is NOT a passive activity, you’re working damn hard and you need to show the person you’re listening to that you’ve understood and processed what they’ve said.

Which of course leads to ….Think. Really thinking about what has been said, mulling over what it is that you’ve heard. Judging whether any action is required on your part. And if the only action required is a hug, go for it. If the only action is a smile, flash those teeth. Think of what reaction you might need from a listener if you were in the same circumstance – but don’t just pull a reaction out of the hat because that’s what you think you should do – let the words go from your mind to your heart. Feel the words, feel that other person’s story, experience it along with them as they are re-living it. And react accordingly. Just for a moment, step out of what you need, out of what your story might be, out of your thoughts – and step into the thoughts, feelings, needs of someone else. And don’t just think about it, but consider their needs as greater than yours. For that is what we do if we follow Jesus’ example.

Join me today in following that example. I’m listening to Earfan and his two stories – one of his son’s high school preference and a change of heart, and another of a shower door getting stuck, that one made us both laugh.