Listening is Love
I was the youngest in a family of five children. And as my older siblings would probably attest to, I was spoiled a bit more than the rest, thought of as the cute baby, being referred to by my mother as her baby well into adulthood. But there was a down-side to that envied place in the family—if you’re valued for being cute and babyish, you tend to not be valued for what you have to say or what you think. You’re a neophyte for life, the one who needs direction rather than the one who gives it; the one who needs to learn from others who have gone before you.
And maybe that has influenced me in my belief that listening to someone is the greatest way to love them. I mean really listening. Listening is a skill that takes much practice. It requires a discipline of my mind that is entirely other-centered. Practicing this skill requires that I put my responses “on hold” while I listen to my husband or my children express what is bothering them. Once I have heard them, only then can I think about a response, a response that is not pre-meditated or assumed based on prior knowledge. Listening requires an openness to others and to ideas, and only if I let what someone else has to say penetrate my mind, can I have a dialogue. I have learned the difference between dialogue and debate; the latter should be left to the classroom, or even better replaced with a class on listening.
I believe that listening must be modeled to us. The person who did this for me was my French tutor that I hired while working on my graduate degree. She taught me much more than French. As we sat face to face, week after week of tedious French lessons, she also took time to befriend me and to listen. I experienced validation, not just of what I had to say, but of my very being. I gained confidence in myself, a helpful attribute for finishing grad school as an older adult.
Listening makes us more human; it makes life more worth living because it connects us to the people in our lives in a deeper, more meaningful way. My French tutor’s exuberant responses to what I might say, elicited the same from me towards her and we became close friends. Listening has this contagious quality.
When I listen to people, I appreciate them for the value of their ideas, their life experiences, not merely as the objects of my perception, as I experienced being valued for being cute as a child. Of course, I don’t listen well all the time, but at least I now know what it is, what it feels like. If listening were valued more in society, it would be a very different world indeed, because I believe this simple act of love has the power to transform both the speaker and the listener.