The Act of Listening
Ever had the experience of speaking to someone and knowing that they're just not listening? Their eyes, their body language, their urge to interrupt becomes an enormous billboard with "I'm not listening" written all over it.
Not to be listened to is probably one of the most annoying things that can happen to you. Not only does it attack your dignity, but rides roughshod over your fundamental right to be heard. Will we ever be able to calculate the levels of frustration, anger and conflict that come out of not being heard?
Not to listen is also dangerous because listening is an essential skill in relationships,and let's face it, the very essence of life is relationship. Those who don't listen miss important information and become insensitive to germinating problems. When these grow and finally explode in to the light, the inevitable, "Why didn't you tell me" rings out, which is itself a non-listening statement in it's attempt at self-justification.
Wherever listening is practiced there is healing. It communicates one's care about what is happening to the other. It's laying aside one's prejudices and beliefs, and seeing and hearing things from the other perspectives. It enables the other to have a voice and to be taken seriously. Listening enables those communicating to unfold as people and therefore has everything to do with freedom and evolving maturity.
One of the most healing forms of listening is the one where the listener hears behind the words. Who hasn't experienced regret and embarrassment of expressing something that has somehow come out all wrong. And then, in the midst of it all, there's someone who sees behind our words and understands exactly what we meant. People like this are rare and of great soul.
Let no one say it's easy. Learning to listen is hard work and takes a deep commitment. But, when practiced, healing space is created to which people gravitate, and healing spaces in our world are at a premium.
Perhaps this is why that great theologian and philosopher, Paul Tillich, said, "The first duty of love is to listen.”