Listening (August 13)


“The older I grow, the more I listen to people who don’t talk much” (Germain G. Glidden).

WHOM DO YOU FIND IT EASY TO LISTEN TO? The dynamic public speaker? The fascinating celebrity? The person with plenty of personality and the gift of gab? Well, unfortunately, those who are the easiest to listen to don’t always have anything that’s worth listening to. And so Germain G. Glidden’s comment is a wise one: “The older I grow, the more I listen to people who don’t talk much.”

I doubt if there is a greater gift we can give to others than simply to listen to them — sincerely, openly, and respectfully. It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I have a hunch that listening may be an even greater form. Those who deal with us every day are paid a huge compliment when we just listen to them.

But if some people are easier to listen to than others, some truths are also easier to listen to. Samuel Johnson said, “In order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.” The truth, particularly the truth about character flaws that we need to correct, is not always easy to hear. If we have friends who care enough to tell us the truth we need to hear, we should count ourselves blessed. And we should listen when they speak.

“While language is a gift, listening is a responsibility” (Nikki Giovanni). There is a sense in which listening requires more effort than speaking. It doesn’t seem to come naturally to us; we have to choose to do it. Although a certain kind of listening may be easy, the kind that really matters is active listening: the engaged, involved listening that grows out of an intent to learn. That kind of listening takes discipline and practice. (And it requires the character trait of humility, which isn’t in very plentiful supply in our culture.) But when we learn the discipline of listening, we’re changed for the better in many ways.

While talking (or writing) may be a learning experience some of the time, few of us learn as much when we’re talking as we do when we’re listening. It can hardly be a coincidence that we have two ears but only one mouth, and that ratio makes a point we ought to ponder. There is a time to talk, obviously. But there is also a time to shut up and listen — lest we fail to hear words we need to hear.

“Listen, or your tongue will keep you deaf” (Native American Proverb).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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