The Beauty of Listening Well
By the time I arrive at the coffee shop, the tables and nooks are filled with students and community coffee drinkers. I quickly find a table to place my belongings.
Then I head over to the counter to order. With coffee in hand, I sit down to read.
I put in earplugs to drown out the voices from those at the next table. Because my earplugs provide a good filter, I am not distracted listening to the details of the conversations surrounding me.
While looking around, I see studious patrons who also prefer to use headphones to block out the noise of table discussions.
The preference for social media whether it is to block out noise at coffee shops or to entertain us at coffee shops has replaced the simple act of communicating one on one. “Going out for coffee” used to mean “let’s talk” And in some circles it still does. But one can see listening is becoming lost in the world of social media.
Speaking Before Listening
In modern times where people clamor for their voices to be heard, the art of listening is overlooked.
Verbal ramblings ranging from talk shows to comments on social media beckon us to respond within seconds of receiving information. We often rattle off quick responses while not allowing information to be digested into our consciousness, nor letting it permeate into our hearts.
Radio talk show hosts want us to call and to discuss our opinions about the current events of the day. Tweets require us to shorten our responses to a minimum character count. And Facebook gives us the option to like one post and quickly scroll down to like the next friend’s post.
As a result of these immediate responses, our voices become drowned in a sea of social media chatter providing less effective opportunities for lasting conversations. Motivational Writer Stephen Covey states “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”
I’m still at the coffee shop. I’ve finished reading the first chapter of my book and open my computer to my favorite social media site. While browsing online, I, also, respond to social media with likes, tweets, and posts.
Yet, I am reminded that my quick responses can be compared to possessing a tongue on fire. Scripture tells me the tongue boasts of great things (James 3:5). Or can it be the keyboard responding to social media boasts of great things?
Not only can the tongue boast, but it can also be quick to deliver an inconsiderate answer or comment as in the case of social media.
Scripture also tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, the priority of responding has become a habit that overlooks listening.
Practicum on Listening
The listener bears a great responsibility.
The listener is continually collecting thoughts, processing ideas, and interpreting viewpoints. In order for the listener to give an accurate response, first, something has to be heard.
Before responding, a good listener is responsible to discern the information that comes from other voices. Even as I practice the art listening, I have been given the ability to contend with any assumptions a speaker makes. For God’s people, the discernment to challenge assumptions comes from thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
When we think on these things, listening becomes more than just hearing words.
The Student Handbook for the University of Minnesota at Duluth states “ Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear…hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something we consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so our brain processes meaning from words and sentences.”
Listening with well-ordered thoughts renewed in the goodness of God is the principle foundation for speaking.
Created to Listen
Listening to God’s voice, other voices, and even our own thoughts, require critical aspects of attention, understanding, and discernment.
Because listening takes on the process of filtering the information we receive, it becomes more effective than our speech.
The baby in the womb enters the world after hearing conversations for months. As the baby grows into the childhood years, she (he) is trained to respond to what she (he) hears. For the elderly, speech has quelled almost to a silence as she (he) yearns to hear a voice of comfort during the long days of loneliness.
From the beginning of the baby’s existence to the end of the elderly’s existence, God has instilled in them the beauty of listening.
Now, it has been almost two hours since I have been reading at the coffee shop (of course with breaks to check social media). Still, with my earplugs in, I am oblivious to the conversations around me. The only conversation I listen to are the thoughts inside of my head concerning the book’s characters and their storylines. Will the main character ever meet his match? Will this character ever get her story straight for the detectives? Only listening to the voice of the book’s author will give me the answers to these questions.
I take out my earplugs, ending my reading time. I look around as I hear different sounds in the coffee shop—the clatter of computer keyboards, the swoosh of espresso machines, and the kind responses of thank you from the customers to you’re welcome from the baristas.
I begin to hear, then listen—the listening where I can feel the emotion behind what is being said.
This God-kind of listening begs us to respond in a manner that is gentle and loving.
This kind of listening challenges me to lend an ear before I respond. This is the beauty of listening well.