Aleteia

Do you know how to really listen?

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Most of us can hear but we’re poor listeners — here’s how we can change that.

We’ve all done it. We’re physically there, talking to a person, while our minds are actually wandering elsewhere. Is this not often the case when after a hard day at work we’re unable to leave our professional worries behind once we get home? Is it not the case with children, who are too involved in their games and cannot hear their parents calling them? At times our loved ones find this behavior offensive. It also robs us of the grace of listening.

Why don’t we know how to listen to others?

Do we take the time for the other person to finish the question, before we respond? Do we respect the sometimes muddled and slow speech of someone, especially when we ourselves are endowed with a quick mind? Sometimes even one word can bring back the rush of our own memories undermining our capacity to listen. We then embark on our own story, “It happened to me, too,” and usurp the conversation.

We might be moved by the mention of a certain situation. We might surrender to the feelings of anger, fear, repulsion, without quite realizing where they come from. This could undermine our ability to listen, provoking an exaggerated reaction without any connection to what is being told. 

The ability to listen depends on a certain set of requirements 

Have you ever noticed that children tend to ask serious questions precisely at the moment when we’re at our busiest? The ability to listen requires that we stop everything else we’re doing. If you cannot stop what you are doing, don’t forget to answer their questions later. The ability to listen requires that we know how to stop talking, how to make silence deep inside us. If our thoughts are occupied by something, we cannot be receptive. 

The ability to listen presupposes that we have an open mind. If we camp on our own vision, our own convictions, our certitudes, we won’t be receptive to what the other person is saying. The ability to listen requires our internal goodwill. This is easy to do when in a relaxed atmosphere, and much harder to do when the tensions persist.

Family environment could be an excellent training ground for this listening exercise. Our own capacity to listen will depend on our internal calm and our ability to step back. It requires that we know ourselves well. The knowledge we progressively acquire precisely in the light of our mistakes and missed opportunities.  

The ability to listen is a Christian virtue

When He says, “Therefore, consider carefully how you listen” (Lk 8:18), Jesus himself attaches great importance to our ability to listen. Listening to others is a gift that only He can give us. Is he not in my brother? And is my brother not the temple of the Holy Spirit? Developing this willingness means we open up to everyone who addresses us. Is it not also how we learn to listen to God and allow Him to transform us?

And what if during our prayer as we speak our gratitude, our supplications, and our worries, we learn how to be at peace, how to  calm our imagination and turn a listening ear to what the Holy Spirit has to tell us? We would receive the Word like a Sower’s seed that falls into the fertile soil to bear fruit. 

In practicing our listening skills in our daily life, with our family and friends, in being vigilant to our own willingness to accept their words, we will progress. Hence, it will gradually become easier and easier for us, to tell God as young Samuel did, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 S 3:9). 

Rolande Faure

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