The Art Of Listening
Friday, July 22, 2016
I went to lunch with an old friend last week. We have been friends for over twenty-five years and she is probably the closest friend I have. We don't see each other very often anymore. We used to live near each other and do the same volunteer work but now we are doing good if we get together once or twice a year. It was a great lunch. We talked for over two hours straight without taking a breath and probably irritated everyone around us in the restaurant because the more involved in our conversation we got the more animated we got. At one point she quoted something I had told her years ago that I hadn't remembered. I laughed and said that was the reason I kept her around. She said "that's right, because I actually listen when you talk."
The point of this slightly boring story is that she was right. We are friends because she listens when I talk. And hopefully, because I listen when she talks. That sounds obvious and silly but it isn't. Listening is a lost art.
We live in a world of sound bites (that looks wrong but I looked it up and it isn't bytes) and endless streams of information and constant chatter. We are inundated with sound but we have forgotten how to listen. We are constantly communicating with each other but, all too often, we are not conversing with each other. We talk at each other instead of to each other. I am not advocating a boycott of modern day technology and a return to the old days of leisurely conversation though that does have its appeal. Modern day communication can be hugely beneficial. I am advocating a return to the art of conversation and a rediscovery of the skill of listening.
Listening really is a skill. It is all too easy to scroll through twitter while our child is talking, to plan what we are going to say in response before our fellow conversationalist is done speaking, to speak to our own agenda instead of letting the conversation lead us. We need to look up from our phones and our screens and our own little world and interact with the people around us. The key word there is interact. Even when people do talk to others they do not always have a conversation. They put the phones down but they are still talking at others instead of participating in the give and take of a true conversation. We need to ask questions. We need to listen to the answers. We need to let a conversation meander and go where it will. We need to allow for lulls in the conversation because out of those lulls sometimes come the things that really matter.
We need to listen because listening shows we care. We need to listen because then we will remember. We need to listen because then we learn. We need to listen because that makes us a good friend.
We need to listen because then, despite twenty-five years and all the changes life brings, the friendship will still be strong.