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Talk Too Much


RightOne of the hit songs around the time that I was finishing high school was “You Talk Too Much,” written by Reginald Hall and sung by Joe Jones on a record that made No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
 
As was typical of the rock ‘n’ roll lyrics of that time, the meaning of this song was obscure. Who was talking too much? The song didn’t say.
 
That song came to mind because these days, talking too much has become a part of our culture.
 
The never-ending commentary on television and radio in which real and faux authorities talk at each other about politics, government, social issues, and even sports, seems to serve little purpose except to fuel bitter exchanges on social media and confirm folks in the opinions they already hold.
 
Often, the discourse, rolling on like a truck without brakes, descends into schoolyard vitriol.
 
I’m sure that there are reasonable people on both sides of every contested subject, but such people are drowned out by the relentless polemics.
 
A character in the “Peanuts” comic strip once concluded an argument by saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and it’s simple as that.”
 
It is rarely as simple as that, but as more and more folks adopt that intractable attitude, as fewer and fewer are willing to give opposing views a fair hearing, we are putting at risk the quality of our life as a nation and our lives as private citizens.
 
One reasonable voice that rises above the maelstrom is that of Pope Francis, who more than once has addressed this very issue.
 
He raised the topic, for example, when he met with university students in Rome.
 
Speaking of media reports of the insults exchanged by public figures, Francis told the students that it was “time to lower the volume. We need to talk less and listen more.”
 
During that meeting, the pope explained that civil discourse is not a matter only of good manners.
 
“Wait. Listen carefully to what the other thinks,” Francis said, “and then respond,” and—instead of summarily dismissing the other’s point of view, ask for a further explanation of what you do not understand.
 
“Where there is no dialogue,” he said, “there is violence. …
 
“Wars start inside our hearts. When I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin.”
 
When Francis was ordained to the diaconate and then to the priesthood, he promised to practice what he preached, and he does that where this topic is concerned as in many other contexts.
 
Whereas the Church’s dialogue with non-Catholics, non-Christians, and people of no faith has accelerated in the decades since the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has made a point of personally and publicly engaging in this dialogue himself.
 
He does not compromise the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, but he respects the right of others to have other beliefs, and assumes the intellectual integrity of those who do.
 
Catholics and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, even Catholics and many Christians of other denominations are going to disagree on many things, but the dialogues between Francis and these communities provide a challenging example while at the same time demonstrating that civil discussion is possible no matter how much the parties may disagree.
 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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