Tag Archives: Ear

Speaking the Truth; Hearing the Truth

Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, ‘The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’?
Jeremiah 37:18-19 (NIV)

A member of my company’s team recently delivered some research results to a client. The client had not been happy about their recent performance in the market and wanted to know why. So, they approached us and asked our team to conduct a focused survey of their customers.

The story revealed in the data of the survey results was definitely not what our client wanted to hear.

I told them not to shoot the messenger!” my teammate reported to me after meeting with the client’s executive team. “But, it is what it is, ” he continued. “The data doesn’t lie and we had to give them the truth.”

Ugh. I felt for my colleague. I’ve made countless presentations across my career and it’s never fun when the story the data has to tell is going to make you unpopular. You never know how the client is going to react. It’s always possible the client will question the data and blame our company for not knowing what we’re doing. I can recall multiple clients who, after I presented some hard truths our data revealed, quickly deep-sixed the report and never called us again. I’m grateful to say that we have many examples of clients who faced the truth, utilized the data to strategize a turn-around plan, and were eventually grateful for the wake-up call.

I’m also reminded this morning of an experience years ago when I sat on an organization’s board. The organization was not doing well and many of us were convinced that a change in leadership was going to be necessary to move the organization forward. At a regular board meeting the question was asked, “Do we have a leadership problem?”

[cue: crickets chirping]

I confess that I remained silent as did everyone else on the board. The organization’s leader was beloved and no one wanted to confront this person and experience the painful conversation that would transpire if we honestly answered the question. The organization continued to struggle and I’ve always regretted not speaking the truth when I had an opportunity to do so.

Hearing the truth and speaking the truth are both hard. Jeremiah knew this only too well.

Today’s chapter is set in the critical years while the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah had been predicting this with his prophesies for years even though no one wanted to hear it. During the siege, Jeremiah is arrested for being a traitor and languishes in a dungeon for a long time. Meanwhile, King Zedekiah surrounded himself with prophets who continued telling him what he wanted to hear.

As the situation grows more and more dire, King Zed realizes he needs to hear the truth. He calls Jeremiah from prison and Jeremiah tells him the truth, just as he had always done: “You’re going to be handed over to the King of Babylon.” Jeremiah then takes the opportunity to ask King Zed, “Why am I, the one prophet who tells you the truth, languishing in prison? Where are all the false prophets who tickled your ears with deception and told you only what you wanted to hear? Why aren’t they in the dungeon instead of me?

This morning I’m thinking about all of the layers of life in which I have opportunity to be truth-teller or ear-tickler. I’m thinking of all the places I can embrace truth or choose to ignore it. It happens in relationships, families, organizations, communities, companies, churches, and teams. It even happens with my own internal conversations with self. I can be a truth teller or an ear-tickler. I can be open to hearing the truth or shut my mind and spirit to things I don’t want accept.

In the quiet this morning I find myself choosing, once again, to commit myself to the hard realities of both telling and hearing the truth. I’ve learned along the journey that it may not be pleasant in the moment, but it makes for a more level path down the road.

Two Different Audiences

The Mix

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NIV)

This past Wednesday night I was given the opportunity of speaking to a large gathering of Middle Schoolers. Many years ago, I regularly found myself in front of this particular demographic. I stress many years ago, because I can’t remember the last time I was in a room that was such a boiling cauldron of adolescent hormones and perpetual kinetic energy. Yikes!

To be honest, I had a blast. It was a great group of young people, they were a gracious audience, and I was jazzed at the opportunity to share with them. As I’ve contemplated the experience the past day or two I’ve come to a couple of realizations.

First, while a room full of middle schoolers can be an intimidating audience, they are also an incredibly transparent audience. If you are boring them you will know it because their uncontrollable kinetic energy will lead them to start twittering, fidgeting, and whispering to neighbors. This is very unlike a room full of adults. Adults have very little kinetic energy. They are, for the most part, very tired, and they have learned over time how to pretend to listen to you while their minds are organizing their work schedule and task lists for the week.

Second, middle schoolers are at a stage of life in which they are asking big questions and making big life choices. This means that the opportunity for big life impact and influence is huge. If  you can succeed at getting through to a middle schooler you might just help change a life for the better. Once again, I find this to be very unlike an audience of adults, who are pretty set in their ways and cynical. Adults are big on saying they want to make a positive change in their lives (e.g. We have a closet full of Nike athletic wear saying “Just Do It”) , but rarely do they we actually change our thoughts and behaviors (e.g. We haven’t exercised since the Clinton administration…the first term, to be specific).

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In today’s chapter we find Ezekiel struggling with the same issues 2500 years ago. His fellow Jewish exiles in Babylon loved gathering to hear his messages, but there was a big disconnect between their ears and their hearts.

Today, I’m thankful for young people and all of their boundless energy and untapped potential. I’m thankful for adults whose hearts and lives remain spiritually pliable. And, I’m praying for those of us who have frayed and severed connections between eye/ear and heart; Praying that a little spiritual reconstruction might take place and restore the potential for positive heart and life change.

“He Who Has Ears to Hear…”

A self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh with a ban...
A self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh with a bandaged ear. On display in the Courtauld Gallery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I haven’t been posting much lately other than my chapter a day. I’ve kind of dropped off Facebook and Twitter as well. It’s not necessarily intentional.

It’s been a busy spring. Wendy and I were busy with USP’s spring production. I’m in a busy season of work, the busiest I’ve experienced in many years which has included a hectic business travel schedule. At the same time, we’ve been through a large home project in which the foundation of our house was shored up and the basement completely waterproofed. Now we have a basement piled with all our “stuff” covered in a thick layer of fine cement dust which has to be sorted, cleaned, organized and put away. It all feels pretty mundane and overwhelming at the same time.

In addition, my tinnitus has had periods of being markedly worse this spring. (Side note: There is one school of thought that Vincent Van Gogh went crazy, in part, because of tinnitus and he cut off his ear to rid himself of the incessant ringing. If so, I sympathize with him.) Because of the difficulty I have hearing in places with a lot of ambient noise, I’ve found myself struggling with large social situations and public places. I hate having to ask people to repeat themselves two or three times, or just sitting there hearing the din of conversation but not being able to make out what people are saying. I finally went to the ENT doc to get things checked out only to find that the hearing in my “good” ear has declined rapidly in the past year. The doc suggested I give up caffeine and get fitted for a hearing aid in that ear as well. [sigh] Going through caffeine withdrawal on top of everything else was a barrel of fun.

I’m whining. I know, and I beg your forgiveness. I’m blessed that technology and available resources mean I can get what I need to help me hear. Nevertheless, I admit that the reality of my auditory decline has left me feeling a little sad even as I prepare to celebrate my 46th birthday on Monday. Wendy and I will, however, be at the (blessedly quiet) lake with my folks, Taylor, and Clayton. I’m really looking forward to being there, even if it is only for a day or two.