Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Try Listening

My son can debate with the best of them. He is a great orator and has knowledge of just about every subject you could ever imagine, from the Bible to current pop culture. There are times when we all would prefer that he not impart that knowledge and be quiet. His superiors in the Marine Corps also experienced his verbal diatribe, noting that there were times when he should just have obeyed orders instead of questioning their validity or the wisdom in which they were given.

Make no mistake. He has plenty to say. Our family knows from whence this comes and we all wish we would have had the foresight to listen when he was a child. Because he had much to say then and was not allowed to say it. He was silenced to his room on numerous occasions without listening to his explanation or hearing his side of the story. He would sit in the doorway to the hallway and say over and over again, “I just want to say one more thing; just one more thing.” As parents, we felt it was the best method of training. With hindsight, we wish we had done things differently.

The other day I was in a parking lot walking to my car and I witnessed a scene that was all too familiar. A mother was battling with her toddler about something and I heard those words I had heard so many times years ago: “I just want to say one more thing”. I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, if she only knew. If she only knew that just a few seconds of listening to him could change both of their lives dramatically.

Listening is a dying art. We are a nation of talking heads. If you don’t believe it turn on the television to CNN or Fox News and watch those “heads” debate one another. They rarely listen. They talk over each other to the point of annoyance. Neither listens to the other point of view. They are so intent on getting their own point across that they are planning their next discourse while the other person is talking.

How many of us truly listen? I have come face to face with this reality in my own life when I was encouraged to listen to the words of certain Manilow songs that I might have heard but never really paid attention to the lyrics or their meanings. So I started to listen. And almost instantly the songs took on new meaning. I had always heard the music, but hardly ever paid much attention to the words that went along with it.

This made me wonder how often I had missed something someone had said to me because I never took the time to listen to what they were saying. How many times had I missed something said in pain or anger because I didn’t want to hear their point of view? How many times had I ignored my son’s words because they went on and on for longer than I cared to focus? How many conversations had I sat through with friends and been doing something else at the time and missed that they needed my encouragement?

Listening is one of the most compassionate acts we perform as human beings. And its more than just hearing. We all hear. Listening involves much more than your ears. It involves your heart and your head. It involves feeling what the other person is saying and using your intellect to understand what they are attempting to communicate.

When my son kept saying, “I just have to say one more thing” what he really meant was “I feel like I’m not being heard. I feel like you are not listening to me. I’m trying to tell you that I have an opinion and I feel an injustice has been committed.” Instead, we told him to stop complaining and sit in his room quietly. It’s notable that he has spent the last 20 years trying to get everyone he knows to hear him.

I would go so far as to say that if we listened to each other more often, there would be more consensus reached and fewer wars fought. How hard would it be to say, “I’m trying to understand your point of view. Can you help me?” It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree once both points of view have been set forth. But it’s hard to do that when you never truly listen to what the other person has to say.

So here’s an exercise for you. Take out one of your favorite Barry CD’s or IPod. Put on your headphones and sit down to listen. Pay attention to the words this time. If you can’t understand them, look them up online or in the CD jacket. Think about what he was saying when he wrote the lyrics to the song or interpreted the lyrics written by others. As Barry has told us time and time again…Listen.

Trying to listen,
Texas Fan

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