Our world is deaf. It is not from the inability to hear but the refusal to listen.
Shouting. Name-calling. Interruptions. They are all signs of the times.
The first presidential debate of 2020 put it onstage in living color. The candidates acted as if they were two third-graders shouting ridicule at each other on the school playground. (I apologize for the insult to third-graders by my comparison!)
In a polarized society, people talk over people. We all say we listen, but do we?
We say, “I heard you.” But did you?
We say, “I understand.” Do you?
James counseled believers to:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…(James 1:19)
It may be the most ignored verse in the Bible because we assume we listen.
We do not.
Why? What does listening in a deaf world look like, and what does it demand of us?
Hearing Is Not the Same as Listening
Hearing is a biological function. Sound assaults the ear, which travels down the ear canal, bangs against the eardrum. Vibrations wiggle the bones in the inner ear, which pulse the nerves to the brain. The brain then takes the sound and decodes it. When the sound matches the mental dictionary, words get deciphered.
But understanding is different than hearing.
Personal dictionaries provide meaning. My “cold” may shiver while yours may stiffen. What does it mean? As the saying goes, “people have meaning; words don’t have meaning.”
To listen, you must do more than hear words. You must understand hearts.
When I was in high school, I was part of a two-man debate team, the first in our school’s history.
At the beginning of the year, all the teams in the state received a proposition. It might be something like “The United States should ban nuclear weapons.” On one side, you affirmed or pushed the idea that it should. On the other, you contended that it should not.
It was this primary contention that drew the teams into pitched battle.
You had to listen close enough to understand them. From that I learned a simple principle of listening. How do you know when you have understood?
You have not listened until you can argue their point as vigorously as they can.
Listening does not respond but clarifies. It poses questions, and resolves misunderstandings. Meanings get checked for accuracy.
What It Takes to Listen?
Since hearing is natural but listening is not, you must take special pains to listen. What does it take to open your heart, not only your ears?
First, you must humanize your opponent.
Our modern mudslinging mentality demonizes those who do not share personal convictions. They are evil. They are bent on destroying all that is dear. In short, they despise Mom and hate apple pie.
It is easier to scorn those who disagree than open yourself to another. You can ignore a monster. You cannot write off a person of eternal value.
To listen in this way is a personal decision. The only way you can humanize another is believe he is like you. Each of us can be misunderstood. Those on the other end of the spectrum are as sure as we are.
Because we hide behind the the anonymity of social media, we struggle to see the human behind the posts.
Second, you must close your mouth.
When people listen, they only listen to respond. Ask questions such as, “I don’t understand, can you help me?” A question that begins with “Wouldn’t you agree…” It is a inept way to listen. It is only a club to beat back understanding.
Also, it does not include “other-wording.” We fall into the trap of saying, “in other words” and the “other words” are what we want to convey, not what other believes.
Without the quiet neither your heart nor your ears function well. As Alfred Brendel said,
“The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.”
Third, if it is unclear, listen more.
Some say older people repeat stories is because they have not heard. Once you get the point, they stop telling the story.
Whether accurate or not, the more you listen,the better you understand. You haven’t listened enough until you can state the other person’s understanding to their satisfaction. Admit you do not understand and listen more.
The next time you think you understand, try to argue your opponents point. You will find out if you actually understand.
Without listening, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there is no harmony. No one wins and everyone loses.
Listening is taking some one by the hand, not seizing them by the throat.
Become part of the solution to the noise of the world. Stop and listen. Carefully and fully.