By Michael Patrick, Ph.D.
A lesson that I took away from months of forced solitary confinement is that I talk too much. I’ve learned that all those spoken words were not as important as I thought they were.
I indulged the bad habit of interrupting others too often. My renewed apologies to friends who have endured my yapping torrent of words in conversation.
Sometimes, I catch myself brutishly forming my next remark as if it was more important. We mistakenly think that if we just delivered more information, the other might see our point of view and, in return, validate us and our ideas.
As a journalist and amateur Christian, I’m persuaded that the most fruitful way to connect with others resides fully in the humility of listening. The act of listening offers the other person the hope of being heard, valued, and appreciated—the most powerful forces in relationship. Listening is our in-the-moment sacrifice of self in genuine pursuit of the other.
Listening affirms someone without sacrificing one’s self at all. It creates the possibility of relationship despite what might otherwise be thorny differences. Stopping our own train of thought and riding along on someone else’s journey is vital if we want to survive those invincible armies of “yeah, buts”. Listening is also an essential and transforming quality for authentic leaders.
How should we then live?
When was the last time you heard a politician speak positively about a point made by his or her opponent? Does all truth reside only on one side of the political divide? Such misguided partisanship is one reason why America’s border immigration conditions are in shambles.
Sadly, our devolving American culture has lost the arts of a balanced discussion and persuasion. That’s due in part because today’s partisan press thrives on creating division, conflict, and controversy. Each tribe believes its sacred values are breached and contrary values and voices must be censored and silenced. Such misguided actions produce the inevitable fruits of mistrust: doubts, suspicions, chaos, and confusion.
Today, we appear to prefer leaders who are well-armed with jabs and insults. Things will change for the better in America only when we develop and affirm leaders who demonstrate their ability to genuinely listen. Lincoln was a strong leader who knew how to listen and treat all people fairly. His rare character and ability to listen offered hope amid the darkness and helped to heal a bloodied nation
Such life-changing listening practices must begin with me.