May 17, 2022 // Perspective

My sense, your nonsense

A friend of mine is threatening to run for office. His slogan will be “Stop the Nonsense.”

I think it’s a slogan an increasing number of us could get behind.

Nonsense is in the eye of the beholder, however, and the trick is defining what the nonsense is. For some, it may be the new trend in “woke” news organizations that refer to “pregnant people” or “menstruating people,” as if there are some other biological options out there that we haven’t realized until now.

Or nonsense might be the belief that alien lizard people have shape-shifted their way into world leadership. Or that a national election was stolen by Venezuela and some tricked-out voting machines.

Perhaps the nonsense is stumbling through articles that use third person plural for what is obviously a third person singular.

Or having to constantly talk about “reproductive health” when we really mean killing an unborn child.

On a global stage, nonsense would be listening to Vladimir Putin criticizing the decadent West while his military slaughters fellow Christian Slavs in Ukraine, and on Easter Sunday, no less.

Perhaps it has been COVID-19 and our isolation from each other. Perhaps it is simply the piling on of disasters and crises, bad headlines and bad behavior. We have all become more impatient with one another, quicker to anger, more fed up. We all want to stop the nonsense we attribute to other people.

Our “humor” has an edge to it. Nighttime comics are a bit more savage. In the modern breast beats both Chris Rock and Will Smith, mocking and willing to take offense.

Part of the nonsense that hurts us, unfortunately, is our unwillingness to listen to one another, to engage with one another, especially with someone with whom we disagree, be it a family member or a political opponent.

Pope Francis, in his 2022 World Day of Communications message, meditated on the virtue of listening. He described a world where, “instead of listening to each other, we often ‘talk past one another.’ This is a symptom of the fact that … rather than listening, one pays attention to the audience.” We don’t “dialogue,” he said. We “duologue”: a “monologue in two voices.”

“Good communication, instead, does not try to impress the public with a soundbite, with the aim of ridiculing the other person, but pays attention to the reasons of the other person and tries to grasp the complexity of reality,” the pope said.

Wow. This is hard work. I’m a lot quicker these days to dismiss someone’s argument as nonsense rather than really listen. Perhaps you are as well.

Pope Francis sees listening as one of our modern age’s greatest needs. “We are losing the ability to listen to those in front of us, both in the normal course of everyday relationships and when debating the most important issues of civil life,” he said.

For Pope Francis, listening begins with the heart. He quotes King Solomon (who asks for a “listening heart”), St. Augustine (who encouraged “listening with the heart”) and St. Francis (who “exhorted his brothers to ‘incline the ear of the heart.’”)

Our battles today, both in our families and in our country, suffer from a lack of hearts inclined to listen. Listening requires patience, the pope reminds us. It also requires a certain humility.

Whenever I see the shouting crowds in front of the Supreme Court building, I am struck by the uselessness of these confrontations. No minds are changed. No hearts softened. Only the photographers are happy, because they’ve got their money shot.

It’s as if we think we can bully or mock or simply shout down people until they agree with us. That is the real nonsense.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].

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