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Listening only after national tragedies is not enough

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Martin Richard, 8 years old, seen in this Facebook photo, died in the Boston Marathon bombing. Richard was waiting to give his runner father a hug at finish line. (Whitehotpix/via Zuma Press/MCT)

An old friend once confided that as his years increased, he found himself crying more.

It could be over a movie or the sudden memory of a young friend who was lost in a distant war or a story on the evening news about folks he had never met.

A retired physician, he thought his tears might have been caused by simply growing old, no longer having the strength to keep his guard up.

His emotional shock absorbers were spent, it seemed, and his surrender to sentiment inevitable.

As we are assaulted by the news about the bombings in Boston, however, it just might be that the onset of his sadness was less about him and more about the world around him.

Every day, for some time now, the news of unspeakable inhumanity and violence rocks us, from Oklahoma City to the World Trade Center to Newtown.

Like all the other tragedies, each photo from Boston is a horror, each sound bite depressing, every detail wringing tears from young and old alike.

And amidst this palpable loss, the sheer joy of public celebrations, the tonic for the frustrations of everyday life, is gone.

Yet, it is only after these national calamities that we stop bickering about everything long enough to simply listen to each other. But for these tragedies, we are immersed in a crescendo of voices, with everyone talking and no one listening.

After 9/11, we listened to each other. For a while.

Friends, family and strangers reached out, lending an ear or a shoulder to cry on.

For that while, it was no longer us against us. Talking over each other was replaced with the kindness and respect of listening.

Listening is often a tough road.

When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas visited Duquesne Law School this month, he was asked why he never talks from the bench.

Thomas, regularly derided for his silence, told the packed hall that he preferred to listen, adding, “I think we have become a cacophony.”

Supporters and detractors alike nodded in agreement.

Ernest Hemingway said: “I like to listen. Most people never listen.”

According to Epictetus, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

And the 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

By listening more and talking less, the possibilities of solving many of the aching problems facing our nation and our communities are boundless.

But listening solely in the wake of national tragedies is simply not enough.

Martin Richard, an 8-year-old kid with a winning smile, was killed at the finish line in Boston. The day after Martin died, a photo of him made the rounds. It shows this beautiful hopeful boy holding a sign that he had made for a class project.

“No more hurting people. Peace,” it reads.

If only everybody listened to Martin.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).

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