Saturday, May 5, 2012

Proposal for a National Day of Listening

The 61st annual National Day of Prayer was observed on May 3, as it is on the first Thursday of May every year. The same day was also the 10th annual National Day of Reason.
As an alternative to both the Day of Prayer and the Day of Reason, I am proposing a National Day of Listening.
The modern law formalizing the annual observance of the Day of Prayer was enacted in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress and signed by President Truman.
The Day of Reason was created in 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists, partly in response to what they consider to be the unconstitutionality of the Day of Prayer.
According to U.S. Code section 119 (1998), “The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
It is interesting that this government document says that people in the United States “may turn to God in prayer,” whereas the promoters of the Day of Prayer often say that citizens are “asked to” do so.
In spite of some email rumors again this year that the Day of Prayer was being canceled by the president, the 2012 National Day of Prayer was officially proclaimed by President Obama on May 1. (The text of that proclamation can be found here.)
The promoters of the Day of Reason say on their website that their purpose is “to celebrate reason – a concept all Americans can support – and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.”
The Day of Reason is gaining recognition, partially through the activity of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif., b. 1931), who has officially recognized the day of Reason by issuing a proclamation in the U.S. House of Representatives the past two years. (The text of that proclamation can be found here.)
My proposed Day of Listening is envisioned as a day that all U.S. citizens could observe together.
Christians, Jews or Muslims, for example, could use the day as a special time to listen to or for the “voice” of God/YHWH/Allah.
Those who are atheists could focus on listening to the voice of reason, conscience, the Great Books or whatever.
And perhaps it could, importantly, be a time during which everyone would listen to each other in order to increase mutual understanding, respect and appreciation.
Many have seen the Day of Prayer as a time to emphasize national unity, but the exclusion of those who are not religious makes for disunity.
The promoters of the Day of Reason call for unity through reason, but pitting reason against prayer is also divisive. (Many of us people of faith think it is reasonable to pray.)
But gathering for the purpose of listening should be something everyone could share in and be unified by.
So, is this a proposal worth considering?
Note: StoryCorps started a much different “National Day of Listening” in 2008.


  1. Listening (in the sense of understanding beyond the physical reception of sound waves) is a metaphysical concept beyond the grasp of most Americans who have been indoctrinated in the concept of individualism.

  2. It's a wonderful irony, Leroy, to request responses to a blog that calls for listening. It really is as though listening itself is incomplete without response, isn't it? I mean, how else would we know someone was listening if he or she did not respond? And so, what it seems you mean by a national day of listening is really a national day of communication.

    Unless, what you're really calling for is a national day of silence in which no one is speaking. This is not a bad idea, either. I have often referred to "Horne's doctrine of 'shut-up.'" When we shut up we might do so for many reasons, though: to listen, is one; but also, frankly, to acknowledge that talk is really, really cheap. Everyone speaks without communication, so that much of the time talking is simply a waste of energy and good thought.

    And since so many people are speaking anyway, a national day of reason and/or prayer would at least accomplish one end of seasoning all of this talk with forethought. Whether from reason or prayer, people would be speaking what they have either thought about or prayed about in advance. At the very least the talk would be more interesting than the drone of meaningless blather (which is increasingly characterizing our public political and economic debates). At most, talk could facilitate communication by providing words and ideas that make us want to communicate.

  3. MPH, thanks for listening to what I said about listening and then for responding so I could listen to what you had to say.

    Listening can and does take place without response, but listening cannot occur without someone speaking.

    My proposal that we listen to one another is based on the idea that we listen first (to God or Reason or whatever) and then we share what we have heard. In that sense, I would like to think that listening informs communication and, thereby, mutual understanding.

  4. Just received (by e-mail) from an esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "Amen! A splendid proposal, Leroy! Listening is what prayer is, so you'd be observing a Day of Prayer as well."

  5. Thinking Friend Vicki Price, whom I first met in Japan in 1966 and who now lives in Texas, sent the following comments, which I post here with her permission:

    "It seems to me that your rationale for the Day of Listening is quite sound. I would anticipate that proponents of the Day of Prayer may object, preferring to retain the word prayer. I wonder if Day of Reflection (which may or may not be prayer and may or may not be based on reason/faith) would serve the same purpose. Some might ask, "Listening to/for what?" as it is a bit vague. I agree that it would be good to find some label that all could embrace and that doesn't pit one group against others."

  6. Thinking Friend Truett Baker, who is a Baptist minister in Arizona (and formerly pastor of my home church in MO), sent me an e-mail with the following comments, which I share with his permission.

    "This is an idea I have difficulty getting my mind around, but there is no doubt that most of us are weak when it comes to the art of listening. Cannot prayer also include listening and reason? I can just imagine the look of the faces of Southern Baptists who are confronted with this idea!

    "Keep on thinking—it is refreshing to my thirsty soul."

  7. Great idea! Like prayer and reason, however, listening is something we need to learn to do everyday. I am saddened sometimes when I am with a person for several hours and upon leaving realize that I have heard all about that person and have shared very little about myself. It is my obligation to be more assertive at times, but I also believe we need to teach listening and nurture good listening skills.

    The first act of love is to listen.

    The most important skill of leadership is listening.


  8. I much appreciate these significant comments by Thinking Friend David, who is, I am happy to say from personal knowledge, a good listener.

    I also like what a Thinking Friend in California wrote: "We ALL should listen more. In fact, I try to listen 70% and talk 30%." That's a good goal, it seems to me, although I don't know many people who seem to be able even to come close to that ratio.

  9. Well, I'm pretty hard of listening, so I'm not so sure. Wha'd you say? :-)
    Great idea, Leroy!