Listening is a skill. It’s essential in relationships, and it’s one of the ones I fail to use over and over again. Why? Because as soon as there’s something said, my mind goes elsewhere. There’s defending myself after all. “What? Broken? I didn’t do it. I wasn’t there and if I was, I didn’t touch it, and if I did, it wasn’t a bad thing.” There’s relating and empathising. It’s good to relate and empathise, but it can totally take over.” You have a new pair of black shoes? Me too! Only mine are brown and I bought them last winter. What a coincidence!” There’s fixing. “If you feel sad, I know just what you need – cookies and a bubble bath. That cures anything, right?” Then, there’s judging – meaner but it’s there. “What do you mean you are having trouble with this task? Two year olds can take care of this task. What on earth is your problem?!” Meanwhile, who knows what the person is actually saying?
Of course, the skill to be able to quickly absorb what another person is saying, process it, and respond appropriately is important. It doesn’t do to be standing there going ‘um’ for half an hour while one tries to figure out what a person really meant. Leaving a space to truly listen in, however – that’s its own skill. If I don’t hear what another is saying, I will respond in a way that leaves him sad. He might have wanted a hug, and I offered a solution. Maybe he wanted me to celebrate his new shoes, not share in the fact that we both have them. Hearing not just the words but the meaning and more, the need behind the words, is something that I do way too rarely. It requires a pause, a deliberate lowering of defences, a willed focus and attention, and some patience. It requires interest in things that I’m not actually always interested in. (This will come as a shock to those who think you know me, but I actually have very little interest in shoes.)
It is an area for me to work in. Now, there are those who feel that this is something that I should have mastered long ago and that you have no problem in this area. You might be right. You might be an excellent listener and hear pretty much everything that a person is saying. What if the person isn’t all that good at saying things, though? What if she has trouble finding the words, speaks slowly, has a funny accent, isn’t always clear about her feelings or, heck, has no idea what her feelings are? Can you still hear her? Can you still understand her? This is an area where we can all improve – you know that. You’ve gotten judgement when you wanted understanding, and hugs when you needed solutions. I know I have.
This is an area where I can do t’shuva whole-heartedly. I know I need to listen better, to truly hear what the other is saying, to be able to understand what’s behind the words. I know that by taking time to focus on the people I’m talking to and to show an interest in what they say, I can improve my ability to hear them. I hope to improve on this skill this year, and thus, to be able to say, ‘wow, I was having trouble with that last year. I’m glad I worked on it’ when the topic comes up next. Maybe, if I listen carefully, I’ll hear something worth knowing.