Each new year begins with plenty of words of wisdom (or warning). We encounter change daily, yet for some reason when we shift into January, we feel the need to admonish ourselves…and others. Example: an online search for “New Year’s advice” produced 154 million results! We’re familiar with eat better, get in shape, lose weight, reduce stress, get more quality sleep, stop procrastinating, and other tips.
What surprises me is there has been little progression over time. Recommendations remain similar year after year. Is that because we’re collectively unimaginative or because we lack the faculty to listen?
Hearing and listening are different. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary explains: hearing is the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.” Listening means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.”
My dearest friend has often described me as someone who “has never heard the word ‘no.’” What she’s really saying is that I’m stubborn! The reality is I’ve heard the word “no” plenty—more times than I can count. (Haven’t we all?) But I sometimes make a conscious choice not to listen. Based on Webster, that means at times I don’t give “thoughtful attention” or “consideration” to messages. This trait has served me (and my family) well when we’ve encountered ostensibly impossible situations.
“To nurture the skill of active listening,
ask questions, wait to speak, and stay focused.”
Not listening, however, is generally not an attribute to emulate when one is trying to form and/or strengthen relationships or spiritual growth. Both hearing and listening are key in these endeavors. We can’t understand others without effective communication—a necessary component of relationship building. And we can’t increase our knowledge without understanding.
Psychology Today reports, “Listening requires empathy, curiosity, and motivation, whereas hearing is a passive process.” To propel our listening goal further, we can engage in active listening. This involves hearing and responding; it requires action. Effective use of this skill can accomplish a great deal. It can resolve conflict, create genuine connections, and facilitate comprehension. To nurture this skill, ask pertinent questions, wait to speak, and stay focused.
Many Scripture passages speak to the importance of listening, but I like “…everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). Now there’s advice—a resolution—all should consider, regardless of our size, shape, stress level, quality of sleep, or physical stamina! Listen and learn.