Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Sometimes I experience the so-called “art of conversation” like an assault. I struggle in my quiet awkwardness to contribute to a volley of words in which my opponent, or opponents, are intent on sending their own words back across the net. My own feeble attempts are met with the swing of an arm, the smacking of the ball, and a response: talk back.
I come away from such encounters, empty. I question myself, I berate myself, I examine and re-examine spoken and unspoken reactions to my words. I feel the weight of judgement in subtle reactions to words that don’t convey the depth of what I intended. I lament the difficulty I have in communicating with the spoken word; it is not my first language.
I express my truth by writing, not speaking, and often, as I craft sentences and paragraphs, I come to understand truth in a deeper way. When I am forced to converse verbally, I speak thoughts that are not fully fleshed out; when I replay conversations in my mind later, my rumination reveals that what I said was not always what I meant.
I long to find true listeners. I’ve encountered just a handful in my almost sixty years of being on this earth and they remain precious in my heart.
This is a world that places high value on talk. It is a world in which we value busyness and don’t take time to listen. It is a loud world, and we find ourselves talking louder and talking over and missing the wisdom of the quiet. We are all forced to play the conversation game to the best of our ability.
Oh, to find one who will put down their racquet and catch the ball I hit over the net in their bare hands, who will invite me to put down my racquet and join them at centre court where we can sit and listen to one another.
When I was in college there was a young woman who was socially awkward. Her dad used to accompany her to and from the campus and I wondered if it was to help her overcome her anxiety. I remember the words of a classmate, a socially adept classmate, to me in reference to the difficulty she had in conversing with her: “I don’t want to have to work that hard”.
I think about that socially awkward young woman sometimes and wonder whatever became of her. I hope she found a community of listeners who is willing to work that hard.
Altruistically, I wish we would all become willing to work hard enough to be part of a community of listeners—in real life, on social media, everywhere. Practically, I set an intention, in the way I was created, to extend my best effort be part of that listening community.
There are many who are longing to be listened to, including me.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
Leo F. Buscaglia