Lending a Listening Ear

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… -James 1:19

I know from my own experience that it is far easier to be quick to speak and slow to listen. I, like many other people I know, like to give my input and contribute to the conversations around me. But when my desire to be heard (or to be right) trumps my desire to hear others, nobody wins.

I find that when I take time to listen to others’ points of view, I am more understanding. Even if I still don’t agree with them, I can better empathize with their position, making me less likely to get upset since I know where they’re coming from and why they do what they do.

I’ll admit I sometimes have a hard time pulling myself away from the things in front of me to give my full attention to people. I’m wired to be task-oriented and like to finish the things I’ve started; interrupting them for what seems like idle conversation is difficult and honestly sometimes feels like a waste of time.

That is, until I reframe the situation and approach it from a different angle.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
-Epictetus

Ignoring opportunities to be an attentive listener— one who turns away from her phone, computer, to-do list, current activity, and even mental distractions– is a sure-fire way to live a very small, secluded life. When I don’t pay attention to those around me, I unconsciously shrink my worldview, limiting my cares, thoughts, and prayers to things that only concern me. I instantly become exponentially more selfish.

On the flip side, when I set aside my own agenda to pay attention to those around me and really listen to what they’re saying, I allow myself to step away from my own worries and share someone else’s burden, lightening their load if only for a moment. It builds trust in my relationships and shows that I respect others by recognizing that they are more important than my to-do list.

Through listening to others talk about their lives, interests, pasts, concerns, and hopes, I gain a greater perspective not just regarding who they are and how they view the world, but I catch a glimpse of life through their perspective and challenge my own preconceived notions.

“To listen to a person’s stories, he understood, is to learn their feelings and experiences and values and habits of mind, and to learn them all at once and all together. Austen was not a novelist for nothing: she knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else’s stories—entering into their feelings, validating their experiences—is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.” –Jane Austen Education

So here’s to listening before we speak. Maybe we’ll find our world becomes just a little bit bigger and kinder in the process.

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