“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”-Unknown
How many times have you had the experience of talking about something very important to you and were interrupted by a friend or relative with their attempts to help you solve your problem, offer advice on how to fix a situation, or perhaps talking about something entirely different?
It doesn’t feel good if you weren’t actually looking for advice or solutions. This points to a communication challenge on both the parts of speaker and listener. When I am telling a story or relating about an event, it may not be clear what my expectations are of the person I am talking to and if I am just “venting,” it would be helpful if I prefaced my conversation with that. The same is true when I am indeed seeking advice.
Just because a person is speaking does not mean he is being listened to. More than anyone else, God is aware of this fact. Repeatedly, prophets acting as God’s representatives urge people to listen. Jesus, for example, said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15).
When we are called upon to listen, we should, as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen says, “listen generously.” When someone relays a story of suffering, tragedy, sorrow or confusion, there can be much healing merely in the telling. When we can sit patiently and receive the story, we provide the person with an opportunity to speak and hear their own words about their experiences, their sorrow, fear, worry and whatever else may be distressing them. When they have completed expressing what has been cycling around within them, they may well have begun to integrate the experience to the extent that they feel more hope. The circumstances may not have changed, but the person’s perspective on them may have.
According to the Bible, listening is fundamental to our growth. The Bible states: “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.” (Proverbs 18:13).
Being “generous listeners” requires that we give our full attention in order to connect with others in a compassionate way. These are times when we are at liberty to only listen with no need to advise, fix, or do. We merely need to invite the person to tell us more about what they are experiencing right now and give thanks to them for sharing. As German philosopher Paul Tillich notes, “The first duty of love is to listen.”