This I Believe

Michael - New Orleans, Louisiana
Entered on March 21, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in the power and the beauty of listening. As a school counselor, I have made listening my career. I have seen its power at work. I have also seen how much it has let others down. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear statements like, “My parents don’t believe me,” or “My child never listens to what I say,” or “I can’t get these students to listen to me.” Think about listening for just a moment. It seems like it should be the easiest thing to do, right? After all, if we have the ability to hear, then listening is something that should just happen naturally. Or so it seems it should just happen naturally. What I find funniest about listening is how we do not even realize we are doing it every second of every day. There are so many sounds going off all around us: the sound of traffic, the sound that the keyboard makes as we type tirelessly on end, and so on and so on. But those sounds have become just part of the daily flow.

Unless we make the effort to concentrate on the sounds around us, it is difficult to avoid making listening a second-nature activity. In a sense, we become deaf without actually being deaf. However, what I find most sad is that we often become deaf to the most important sound around: the sound of each other. Human beings are constantly in communication with one another. Thanks to cell phones and to an internet that never “turns off,” we have the opportunity to be in communication with each other every minute of every day.

But in the midst of all this communication, are we really listening to each other? Do we really hear what the other person is saying? Sure, we hear the words, but do we really hear what those words mean? It seems that most major tragedies in the world result from multiple failures to listen. In the United States, the statistics show that a newlywed couple is more likely to get a divorce than to stay together. And what seems to be the number one reason why these couples split up? Because both sides feel like the other side did not listen to them. If you turn on any cable news channel, you are likely to see an issue being debated by a number of people who all have a different opinion on how the issue should be resolved. Now I don’t know about you, but it seems to me like these debates are more like shouting matches to see who can make their point the loudest instead of productive forums where ideas are shared and respected. Maybe this failure to listen is why it seems like world problems such as poverty and sub-par education never to seem to find any resolution. No one seems willing to listen to all sides of the story before they make up their minds.

So how do we become better listeners? We have to make the conscious effort to listen. Sometimes that means biting our tongues when we are just dying to say something. I think it also helps to realize that we don’t always have to be advice-givers for someone in need. Most times, people in crisis just want to be listened to. They are bombarded with person after person telling them what they should do, and they never get the chance to say what they really want to do. So the next time you communicate, just sit back and make the effort to listen. It may the easiest and the most difficult thing you do all day.