Conversations that connect

March 21, 2020

The power of listening to others, and to God.


Ever given someone a good talking-to and afterwards realised you should have given them a good listening-to instead? To find out what has caused their actions: possibly fear, worry or stress. The old cliché still stands that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.


In the United Kingdom, Avon and Somerset police set up a scheme to create ‘chat benches’, marked with a sign reading “The ‘Happy to Chat’ bench. Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello.” The benches are there to help break down invisible social barriers. Chat benches have since popped up across the globe.


In Australia, they are called ‘talking park benches’.


It’s possible that the idea originated in Zimbabwe in 2006 when psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda was looking for a way to help those with depression who couldn’t afford to travel to a hospital, due to distance and cost. In brainstorming how to tackle this problem, he arrived at an unlikely solution: grandmothers.


Since 2006, Chibanda and his team have trained over 400 grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy, delivered for free in more than 70 communities in Zimbabwe. In 2017 alone, the Friendship Bench, as the program is called, helped over 30,000 people, for who would mind talking to an interested grandmother?


Whether you are the one doing the talking or the person listening, there would seem to be benefits for both, particularly in this busy world where we all seem to move at high speed with little time for others. It’s a strange thing that some people who are strangers just make us feel comfortable, such that we share things with them that we would hesitate to say to our friends or family.


A popular Christian hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus... What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” Prayer is simply talking to and listening to God, and yes, sometimes he will talk to us through the words of others.


Can you give someone a good listening-to today?


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Vol. 139, No. 14 // 11 April 2020

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