Clarity, verity, charity: my resolve to have new ears

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 4, 2012

“Happy New Ear!” the voice at the other end of the line said on Jan.1.

“Happy New Ear, did you say?” I responded to Stoney Nakoda cross-cultural interpreter Helmer Twoyoungmen, a man a few years younger than I who has been like a brother to me for most of my life.

I knew Helmer was up to something, because he’s always very intentional in everything he says.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what folks have been saying around Morley the past few days, ‘Happy New Ear,’ just for a chuckle.”

As I thought about it, this was not merely some funny line. In fact, I concluded, it was a pretty good diving board into my New Year’s resolution for 2012.

You see, within the Stoney Nakoda culture, one way of referring to someone – a child, for instance – who is not paying attention to what he or she is being told is “Nûre wanîjach,” “He/she doesn’t have ears.”

In a certain sense, it’s about being present to those speaking to you. Because, if you really have ears to hear with, you’ll do something about what you’ve heard. After all, hearing does make demands on us, in thought, word and deed.

This brings me to the New Year’s resolution I made a year ago, about which our loyal coffee companion Michelle Brennick reminded me the other day.

Michelle is a former vice principal at St. Timothy Jr/Sr High School in Cochrane and currently deputy superintendent of Northern Gateway Public Schools in Whitecourt. For some years she has been part of a small group of us who have met together monthly over brunch at each other’s homes to consider various topics in world religions and spirituality.

Eight of us currently, we have made ourselves accountable to each other in living out insights we gain from our times together.

At the start of last year, Michelle suggested we each make a vision statement of what we resolved to achieve over the following 12 months.

Tom committed himself to being more attentive to friendships that have not received proper attention in the busyness of life. He also intended to acquire scuba certification. His wife, Geri, committed herself to taking university courses and focusing on fitness.

George resolved to succeed in some serious deep-sea fishing as well as to make at least one official 10k run with his wife, Judy, and friends. Judy, for her part, also into fitness, committed herself to spending more time with family and friends.

Michelle resolved to show kindness, as well as to compete in athletic competitions. Her husband, Pierre, committed himself to running a full marathon in addition to spending as much time as possible with his grandchildren.

My wife, Mary Anna, resolved to spend more time with her 91-year-old mother, in person and by phone (her mother lives down east).

It seems all of them fulfilled – or are fulfilling – their resolutions, including Michelle, who recently ran in Las Vegas in spite of a serious injury incurred in a fall earlier in the year.

My own resolution was quite simple: To be present – to others and to the wider world. I’m still working on that, with a lot of help from all my coffee companions. Last week, for instance, I referred to something composer Allan Bell said to me over coffee: “I listen to the world as if it were a score.” May I do the same!

After all, as Helmer reminded me, it really is all about having ears. There’s so much I can learn about life, if I open the ears of my heart to listen. For me, this means being attentive to others – in a spirit of discernment and love, to hear and think about what they’re saying and experiencing.

Hearing, of course, is part of the larger process of communication, which starts with hearing (or reading, or observing), filters through our inner guidance system to discern what is true and worthy of embracing, and finally expresses itself in (hopefully) appropriate words and actions.

Here, for me, is where the principle of love must prevail. And that principle applies as much to what we allow ourselves to hear as to how we respond. As they say in the computer world, GIGO: “garbage in, garbage out.”

One of my favourite verses from the Bible refers to “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

I see three principles underlying that verse: clarity of communication in both listening and expression; verity (truthfulness) in discernment; and charity (love) in our responses.

So, dear readers, I renew this as my resolution for the year just begun: with God’s help and yours, to live my life with new ears of Clarity, Verity and Charity, in the hope that, on Dec. 31, 2012, I’ll have earned at least a passing grade.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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