“Listen up!” Who hasn’t heard someone in authority say that to quiet a group? “Are you even listening?” That seems to be a common question between partners. “Haven’t you heard a thing I said?” Every parent seems to ask that of their kid at one time or another. Clearly we share a challenge when we are asked to listen to another. At the same time, we need others to listen to us. We are much less forgiving of another zoning out when we are talking than we are of own own daydreaming while another talks.
I have to repeatedly relearn the art of listening. Instinctively I seem to listen to another person while simultaneously preparing my response. If I am in agreement with the other, I often start answering before she finishes talking. If I disagree, I am thinking about my point of view instead of listening to his. I have always found it much easier to talk than to listen! In fact in school I was constantly reprimanded for what they called “unnecessary talking.” (As if anything I was saying was unnecessary.)
I find it easiest to listen when there is no need for me to respond. Audio books and I get along well. Similarly, I can take in a homily in church. I find that I also deeply listen to the weekly readings. But put me in a discussion group about the homily or the readings and my “talk first listen later if at all” personality pops up.
I wonder how anyone learns to listen. My family was a constant cacophony of six people trying to get their points across. That can’t have helped. Still, I sense that there is a discipline to truly listening. It seems to require patience, tolerance and openness to another person. I continually aim to show up in each conversation willing to really listen. Now if the other person would just put down their phone!