On Listening

“Listening is a very vulnerable stance…  Listening is the core attitude of a person who is open to God’s living and creative word.  Prayer is listening to God, being open and receptive to God’s influence.  True listening has become increasingly difficult in churches and institutions, where people remain on their guard, afraid to expose their weaker side, eager to be recognized as successful and bright.  In our contemporary competitive society, listening is often a way of ‘checking the other person out.’  It is a defensive stance in which we do not really allow anything new to happen to us.  It is a suspicious way of receiving that makes us wonder what serves our purposes and what does not.”

—Henri Nouwen

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On Listening

“Human relationships suffer when we don’t listen to each other.  That is obvious.  Counsellors and mediators know that, when there are problems between people, if those in conflict really start to listen and hear the other person’s point of view, breakthroughs are made.” —Aileen Milne from Understand Counselling

On Listening

Listening is good medicine.  Sometimes it is even the best medicine.  Sometimes our deepest pains and depressions survive, not because we lack ‘solutions,’ but because we do not feel really listened to.  In such a noisy, talkative time as ours, when spaces of safety and silence are ever-vanishing, we frequently forget that there is power in being quiet and listening—power to deepen, to connect, to heal great wounds.  We forget the power that exists in demonstrating that we care about what others care about, that we are concerned about what others are concerned about, that we wish to bear what others are bearing.  Truly much freedom and healing and belonging can be borne out of listening deeply, listening intently, listening generously.

On Listening

‘I am listening…’  Oh, how hard it is to say these simple words to anyone with integrity.  To say these words and really mean them.  How hard it is to even say them and not recede back in fear.  How terrifying it can be to really, truly, intently listen.  And just listen.

On Listening

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.  Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.  It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him.  Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render.  They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.  But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.  One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.  Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On Listening

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

―Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On Listening

Listening should not be viewed as a technique; it should be viewed as an act of love.  All of our talk of ‘effective listening skills’ may mislead us into imagining we simply need to follow some behavioural checklist, ask probing questions, nod at appropriate times, make eye contact, and so on.  These sort of ‘skills’ can be incredibly valuable and they certainly may contribute to good listening.  But there’s not much that would distinguish an interrogator from a friend if they’re applied simply on their own.

The difference maker is love: a genuine interest in really learning, understanding, and bearing the burdens of a friend.  Love is the most powerful inspiration for effective listening.  It will motivate and guide listening far better than any set of skills could on their own.  Love will inspire the best questions, love will shape the most genuine responses, love will motivate a friend to persist in pressing deeper when needed, love will even remind us when our words are inadequate.  The most effective listening cannot be done without love.