“The first duty of love is to listen.” –Paul Tillich
I’m sure that if my mother had a dime for every time she lent me her listening ear, she would be a rich woman. I have cried on her shoulder and over the phone, and I have shared my fears, heartaches, and deepest joys with her. Sometimes she offers advice, but mostly she just listens.
My mother lives in accord with what Paul Tillich said. To truly love someone is to be willing to listen, to truly hear what that person is saying. This means engaging in active listening. This kind of listening requires the hearer to understand, interpret, and evaluate what is being heard.
People gravitate to active listeners, knowing they will be heard and understood. An active listener may not always agree with what is being said, but he or she will seek to understand deeply and respond faithfully to the person speaking.
I’m sure you know people who are not good listeners. They are quick to spring back with a retort or give a ready answer before the words have fully left one’s lips. Silence is awkward and uncomfortable rather than affirming and gracious. They never seem to really hear what you are trying to communicate.
All humans seek to be heard and understood. We need relationship and community. We thrive when we are heard, and we grow when we listen what others have to say. How many times have you heard an adult say to a child who is seeking his or her attention “Not now. I’m busy. Give me a minute.” The child who is dismissed learns a sad lesson about value and worth. Remember Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle”?
I have tried to have good listening ears. Sometimes I am successful, and sometimes I fail. The times where I fail tend to happen when I forget to be truly present in the moment–blocking out all agendas, plans, outside influences, and personal goals and needs. The times when my listening ears are at their best happen when I focus my energy and attention fully on the other person or people involved, giving thanks for them and acknowledging their existence and giftedness and value.
Active listening takes time and patience. When my mother listens to me or one of her friends, she makes that person feel like nothing is more important to her at that moment in time. Her love is evident and radiates from a place of deep concentration and compassion–from her heart. Thanks, Mom, for your listening ears. I hope I can continue to grow into the kind of active and caring listener that you are.
What about you? Who has lent you some listening ears?
Photo by On Task used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!