A democratic citizen is not a citizen who can do anything he wants. It's a citizen who has an obligation at the same time. And just to give you an example, if I may, the freedom of speech, what is the duty associated with it? Well, if you ponder that a little bit, you'll come to the conclusion very clearly that the right of free speech implies the duty of allowing others to speak. If I have the right to speak, I have the duty to let you speak. Now, that's not so simple. It doesn't mean just to stop my talking and wait till you're finished and then come in and get you. It means I have an obligation inwardly — and that's what we're speaking about, is the inner dimension. Inwardly, I have to work at listening to you. That means I don't have to agree with you, but I have to let your thought into my mind in order to have a real democratic exchange between us.
This is really powerful. The idea of freedom is really cheapened if we see at as freedom from everyone around us. And the idea that freedom of speech implies the responsibility to listen to what others are saying is very good. I suspect some people wouldn't say half of what they do if they were listening to others.
As it turns out, I heard this the same day I began reading Esther de Waal's Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. As de Waal spoke of the importance of listening in Benedictine spirituality, I couldn't miss the connection. One of the core foundations of Benedict's rule is that members of the community must listen to one another and in this listening they hear the voice of God.
Speaking of listening, this week's guest on Speaking of Faith is going to be Martin Marty.