The Lesson in Listening

Two friends sit together.

As a young child I remember hearing a poem at a Shabbat service, words that have forever been ingrained in my heart, words that became the foundation of my principles from an early age.

“The person who attends a concert with a mind on business,

Hears - but does not really hear.

The person who walks amid the songs of the birds

And thinks only of what will be served for dinner, hears - but does not really hear.

The one who listens to the words of a friend, or spouse, or child, and does not catch the note of urgency: "Notice me, help me, care about me," hears - but does not really hear.

The person who listens to the news and thinks only of how it will affect business,

Hears - but does not really hear.

The person who stifles the sound of conscience and thinks "I have done enough already,"

Hears-but does not really hear.”

But have I really lived by the lesson I learned from these words? Have I taken enough time to open up my mind, my eyes, and my ears to the world and people around me? Or have I acted selfishly and failed to let each word a loved one has said soak into my skin? It’s human nature that lets us get in the way of truly listening, our brains’ pesky way to deter us from having a more open mind. As I have grown up, I have become increasingly aware of the pattern in our society to shove the opinions of others away, like an old gift that we never really wanted anyway. I say gift because without the opinions of others, we would live in a homogenous society, one where we surround ourselves with our comforts and never get the opportunity to grow as individuals. We are missing out on part of our lives when we chose not to look up from whatever is always occupying us, we lose time spent talking to people we won’t ever get back.

It is a natural inclination to believe that we are right, to defend our own morals that were instilled in us from a young age. We are opposed to changing our views and see compromise as weak, as if compromise equates to giving in. As the world changes, so should our opinions. What we were taught years ago may not fit our current needs, suit our current society, or help move us forward in the tide of time. Our world is in a period of time like no other, the era of globalization, the Techtronic age, the Anthropocene epoch. Things are not the way it used to be, old systems fail to work, and life as we know it has changed completely. We often look at our parent’s opinion as the golden thumb, but we have a duty to evaluate what they are saying instead of just taking it as is and calling it our own. Intersectionality plays a part in every area of our lives, but it’s important to be able to separate the pieces of our life when making decisions. Our experiences and our influences often get in the way, making us stubborn and hostile towards those who challenge our beliefs. We surround ourselves with people who share our beliefs, never getting out of our comfort zones. On social media we follow those who are posting articles and photos we agree with, never getting a chance to hear the counter-argument. Instead of listening to the other side, we often chose to ignore. Ignoring is ignorant and ignorance breeds division.

But where has that gotten us? What if instead of walking away in an angry huff from someone who disagreed with you, you invited them to talk for a while? Yes, it’s not easy, but it’s necessary. If you are reading this, I have a challenge for you: find someone who disagrees with you and have a conversation. The one rule is you have to agree to disagree, but listen to each other’s view. Listening is different than hearing, soak in each and every words and then do with it what you please. Respond calmly, assert your own view and address theirs. Open not only your eyes to the piece of life we are missing, but open your ears to help make a change. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. When we chose to listen, we open up a whole world that is otherwise closed off.

Maybe you will gain a new perspective.

Maybe you will rethink your own opinion.

Maybe you will leave with a newfound respect for whoever you met with.

When you make the decision to listen, you make the decision to better yourself, your community, and our world. Whatever you take away from the conversation, you opened yourself up to something new, and that’s all that matters. There is a lesson is listening, but only if we make the time and the choice to hear it.

United States of America