Listening - The Lost Art Form
“I just need someone to listen.” I have heard those words a few times in my life, and I am sure they are said on a daily basis. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or even a stranger, we all want someone to listen. Listening helps us feel loved. Just recently I heard someone say that love is spelled T.I.M.E., and how true that is. When we need someone to just sit and hear our stories, the time and focus they put into it helps us to feel the love they have for us. But that art form has been dying for some time now.
Life today is all about movement, speed, and “time” (or not enough of it). We live our lives chained to a schedule, unable to break free from societies pull that the busier we are, the more successful we will be. With that desire for success we make ourselves slaves to the “need” for more time, and that is what causes us to lose our ability to listen. We see a friend in need, and through that we notice their vulnerability, especially when they begin to open up and share their heart. I mean, that is what conversation is truly about, getting to know each other on a deeper level; but when we busy ourselves so much we begin to push aside that selflessness, and begin to bring in selfishness to the conversation.
It’s all about the minutes, or so we think, and when someone, outside of our allotted meeting times or outside our scheduled brunch begins to talk, we then begin to modify our schedule. As they open up, we begin to think, “Well, if we talk for an hour, then that will move my 1:30 appointment to 2:30, which won’t work, but I could probably cancel. Or, if I just cut this conversation short, I might make it by 1:45, and I can just blame the traffic.” And with that, we have wasted so much energy to be helpful and make things “fit,” when in the end we have hurt both ourselves, and the one that just needed a friend to be there.
But what do we do about it? How can we bring back that art form of not just hearing the other person, but being a part of their life through our attentiveness?
Stop thinking while they are speaking. I know that seems like common sense, but I know for me it is a struggle to stop everything and actually listen. James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” And in the context it is talking about listening to the word properly and actually doing what it says. But, it also applies to more than just in our reading of the Word. We should just listen, and when someone else is talking, listen, and when you start to daydream about what you are doing later that day, STOP IT and listen. (are you getting the picture?) Yes, it takes discipline, and lots of time and effort, but the growth you will see in your relationships when you actually pay attention to not just the words, but the needs and wants of your friend will be amazing.
Don’t interrupt and stop assuming. Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Wise advice. I don’t know how many times I have jumped to conclusions or assumed the answer of someone, when in reality I was totally, completely, and hysterically off. We may think that trying to give the answer before they even finish their question or story shows gumption, but to most it shows that you want to fix the situation as soon as possible; which, seems like it would be a good thing, but more or less shows that you want to end this conversation as soon as possible. You aren’t going to win award for the fastest “quick fix”. You aren’t going to receive accolades from your compadres because you guessed what was wrong with them (even if you actually guess correctly). Listening is NOT about answering, listening is about, well, not talking, paying attention, and hearing and digesting the words the other person is saying. If you don’t have an answer, that’s fine. It is more about taking the time to be with that person. The answer will come eventually, but just being there while they verbally walk through their struggles, questions, or life will make the difference between a companion and a true friend.
Avoid being distracted. Distractions are a way of life, that we know; but having the strength to ignore those distractions while listening will make a huge difference. This means stop doing what you are doing, such as, watching TV, reading, listening to music, whatever it may be; these things can wait. I know you might be thinking “Those things won’t distract me from being able to listen and connect.” And perhaps they won’t, but I don’t care if you are the greatest multitasker in the world, there is something to be said about stopping what you are doing and focusing all your being on that one person.
Don’t talk. When I need to talk to someone, especially if I am hurting or struggling, I really want him or her to listen, not to talk, just listen. However, if they begin to respond before I even finish my statement, it really makes it difficult to want to continue to open up to them. There is wisdom in silence, as written in Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Hopefully you are not a fool, but this proverb shows the beauty of silence. It shows that you don’t have an agenda and that you truly are there for that person. There is healing involved in every word that person says. For every word spoken there is an action of cleansing that person receives in the wounds of their soul, it may cause some pain, but it sets the tone for true healing. So, let those words flow, yes you might have some good responses and wise words, but you will have those same responses and words after they are done talking, and I tell you the truth, they will be more willing to listen to your advice once they know you have listened to them.
We need to be a people that can put aside distractions, keep their mouth shut, and just open their ears. We won’t get anywhere if we are only waiting for our turn to rebuttal. We can’t continue to be a society that no longer listens in accordance to learning and growing, but just waits for the next breath to shove in our opinion. We need to relearn that art form of quietness and humility by listening for the sake of others, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable by letting others express their own vulnerability.