Listening to Show True Compassion
Reverend Matt Hamasaki, Resident Minister
I was fortunate enough to be invited to be the keynote speaker for the Northwest Convention put on by the Northwest District in the Buddhist Churches of America chaired by the White River Temple. It was at the Doubletree in Tukwila, which is right by the Seattle-Tacoma airport. I have many friends in the Pacific Northwest and was able to see them along with my convention duties.
While staying so close to the ocean, I wanted to take advantage of the area I was in and elected to get some clam chowder in a bread bowl. I went to the famous Pike Place Chowder to get some and, as most touristy things do, it had quite a line. The list of food items available, however, was put on a big board at the front of the line above the cashiers and the end of the line was around the corner, out of the line of sight to see it.
I rushed to the end of the line anyways in order to spend less time waiting. Luckily, there was a woman standing there handing out paper menus and I accepted one so that I could look it over. It didn’t take me long to decide; I was going to order the award-winning New England style clam chowder in a bread bowl. It looked so good and I imagined it being delicious as well as warming in the cold weather.
As I got closer to the front, a man came into the door on the way to the end of the line. He asked the person in line behind me, “Hey, where did you get the menus?” to which they let them know how they went to the end of the line and received a menu from the woman in the back, around the corner. While the person behind me was explaining where the menus were, I simply offered my menu to the man who had just walked in. He thanked me, then walked to the end of the line. While I also heard the question that he asked, I knew he didn’t need to know where the menus were so much as he just wanted a menu. And I was able to fulfill that request without taking up more of either of our time.
I am not bringing up this story to be smug or show off how clever I am. Rather, the opposite — recognizing that all of us, myself included, often do not know what people are truly asking of us. I know I take things quite literally all the time and will miss the point of an interaction or inquiry when others would know without a doubt what the conversation was actually about. This takes practicing a skill of listening, not just with our ears, but with our minds and hearts.
To listen to what someone really needs in their life instead of what we just see or hear on the surface. It is difficult to do and near impossible with someone we may just have met, but it is an important practice for us as Buddhists. For us to understand people so deeply is to understand our connection in this world as suffering beings existing together. And if we are able to do that, we can begin to show true compassion.