Thursday, August 12, 2021

Stethoscope Theology

I recently attended a “White Coat Ceremony” for first year medical students. During the ceremony the incoming first year students receive a white coat symbolic of the beginning of their journey into the medical profession. Before the white coats were distributed the Dean of the college introduced the ceremony with a talk listing the merits of that particular medical school and, more importantly, the merits of the call to the medical field.

In that talk he referenced another ceremony earlier in the month where the students receive their first stethoscopes. He said the stethoscope was one of the doctor’s most valued tools as it allowed them to hear what was happening inside the body. In hearing what was going on inside the body the doctor would be better prepared to diagnose and treat the patient. He urged that that same attentive hearing would be employed in all interactions with patients. He urged them to be good listeners and in doing so truly hear their patients. A good doctor hears what others don’t.

I couldn’t help but think that this advice was not only relevant to doctors but to all of us who truly want to serve others. If we truly want to love others we must be good listeners. Only then will we be able to understand and respond appropriately.

James, the brother of Jesus, in his New Testament letter writes, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV) James seems to think that being a good Christian involves being a good listener. In fact, listening is as important, if not more important, than speaking. That’s not always how we approach relationships.

How often do we start a conversation determined to give someone a piece of our mind? How often do we go on and on expressing our opinion and our point of view while never allowing someone else to express theirs? How often do we enter a conversation already having drawn a conclusion about what someone thinks without giving them a chance to voice their thoughts? How often are we just the opposite of what James is teaching? How often are we quick to speak and slow to listen?

Perhaps many arguments could be avoided if only we took out our stethoscopes and carefully listened to others rather than pulling out our bullhorn to let them know what we think. Perhaps we would be able to better respond to others if we take the time to carefully listen to them. Maybe we don’t know people because we don’t listen. Maybe we misdiagnose because we fail to hear what is really going on inside a person, deep inside them.

So, if you want to really help people, be a good listener. Do the work to hear what may not be obvious. Only when you hear a person’s heartbeat can you really love.