This video had the usually brutal Youtube comment section reaching for the tissues to dry their tears, as an articulate little boy and a warm, grandfatherly older man exchange their thoughts, struggles and joys.
The most attractive part of their exchange is the fact that the two of them simply listen attentively to each other. Their age gap of fifty-seven years means that they have very little in common. It may seem that the young boy doesn’t have much worthwhile experience to add to the conversation, but the old man still listens to him carefully, and acknowledges what he says.
He takes the little boy seriously. In return, the little boy more than adequately makes up for his arguable lack of depth in conversation by his deep empathy. He shows this very poignantly, leaving the older man almost lost for words.
This short exchange is an excellent example of good communication. Neither party tries to fix the other.
Of course, this is easy in a straightforward scenario like this one in the video. It is much, much harder when a situation is more complex, when it involves heightened emotions, people we love, politics or deeply rooted beliefs that people hold dear.
We all know the frustration when we are simply trying to express emotions or viewpoints to someone else and they rush in to change our minds, provide an unhelpful solution, or dismiss our thoughts with their own quick-fix. We just want to be heard, to be acknowledged.
I’m not advocating a warm fuzzy atmosphere where no-one challenges the other. That does not lend itself to evangelisation or the pursuit of truth. But I am advocating beginning exchanges on a good foot, especially when we are explaining our position in the Church to others inside or outside of it who do not agree with the Church’s teachings.
You cannot reach across the divides of generations or differences of opinions without first building a relationship. This means simply listening to the other person’s viewpoint without rushing in to fix or change their mind.
That approach implies that the other person has not been acknowledged, or heard. Once a relationship of mutual trust and respect is built, then two friends can begin to challenge one another’s views, always knowing that the other one holds them in love.