One of the problems of being busy is that we find ourselves only half way involved with any thing we might be doing.  We’re only half paying attention to the TV show or the song on the radio because we’re also planning tomorrow’s meetings and assorted lists.  We’re texting our friend while we sit in church and nod at our spouse as we’re being told about an interesting article in the paper, interesting to the spouse, not so much to us.  So, as it turns out, maybe nobody’s really listening even if they can drowned out enough superfluous sounds to make hearing possible.

Measure twice, cut once is an old saying.  Or we have two ears and one mouth so we can  listen twice as much as we talk, or so we say.  Really?  I can only imagine that it must have been somewhat easier in Jesus’ day to actually get someone to want to listen to you.  After all, they weren’t distracted by email, TV, Ipods and a million other sounds of current culture, trains, planes, and automobiles included.  Perhaps then, when one person spoke to another, the sounds of another human voice were welcomed in a big way to break up the silence and the monotony of staring  at the sheep out in the pasture lands or watching the grain ripen in the field.

One of the biggest issues in interpersonal relationships is about having a sense of being heard, really being listened to by the person you hand picked to be part of your life.  Somehow when you chose each other and declared that you would spend the next years and decades together, you made a packed to co-exist, to talk, to enrich each others lives.  Of course, how could you know that you’d have to text someone at work from your cell phone just when your spouse wanted to talk about something important?  How could you have projected into the future enough to know that your GPS would talk more while you were riding in the car than you and your spouse would talk?  It’s not your fault really. It’s just the state of the world we live in.

So how do you get a personal audience with your spouse or your partner or your boss so that you feel like something is being transmitted clearly, beyond just the sounds of the words in the air?  How can you know that being able to hear means you’re actually being heard, that your words are being processed and considered?

Perhaps the best way to test this idea is simply to be the kind of listener you hope others around you will become.  Stop what you’re doing.  Make eye contact.  Acknowledge with your body language and your responses that every word is being registered and that you are fully present in that moment as a listener.  Perhaps that form of listening from you will help those near you want to share those same skills when you talk.  If you find yourself repeating the things you just said twice already because someone wasn’t fully engaged, try making hearing and listening a priority in your own communication.  Think of it as the way you hope God might be listening to you…fully engaged, fully attentive to just you even though He has a trillion others to listen to as well.  Somehow He’s never too busy.  Let’s work on not being too busy either because it’s always important to listen with the heart.

Thanks for hearing me on this one.

  1. mark says:

    The Buddhist teachings on listening speak of the “faults of the container” as aspects if mind that make true listening (aka hearing) impossible. Very quickly:

    The first is having a mind like a container that is turned over, i.e, nothing can enter it. We must listen with open mind in order to truly hear what is being said to us.

    The second is having a mind that is filled, like a container cluttered to the brim. There is no room for anything to enter, sit and take root. So we try to empty of “our stuff” when we are listening.

    The third is having a mind that is like a container that is dirty, i.e., whatever enters, no matter how clean and pure, is polluted with our own judgments, prejudices, sticky stuff.

    And then there is the mind that is like a container with a hole in bottom, no matter what enters, it leaks out.

    Think about the faults of a container when engaging in meaningful conversation, open and prepare for what is being said. There are few gifts we can give others more wonderful than simply hearing clearly and holding gently what they are saying to us.

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