Some people come from large families and learn to interrupt just to get two cents into a conversation.  My son’s two friends are brothers, and they’re nice boys, but they’ve got the “bull in a china shop” approach to conversation.  They feel that if they don’t step in and step on each others’ words, they won’t get to speak their piece.

Active listening.  It seems a contradiction in terms, but it’s the only time a real conversation is possible.  Most of the time, we engage in alternating monologues.  I’ve been trying a different approach lately, using my son as a guinea pig.  When he speaks to me, I listen with my whole body, aiming toward him and leaning my head to one side.  Nodding to encourage him, making eye contact, I wait for one beat before I reply, giving him the courtesy of actually absorbing what he has just said.

Perhaps we’re afraid of silence.  When someone else is done speaking, that verbal void must be filled instantly or we all get uncomfortable.  What’s wrong with a moment of stillness?

When I was in high school many moons ago, we started our mornings with a “moment of silence.”  Maybe we can incorporate pauses into conversation with a thoughtful nod, so your friend knows you’re still listening, but are really mulling over what was said.  We can hold up a finger (watch which one you choose!) as if to say, let me take that in, and then go on to convey a considered opinion.

I think the absence of actual listening is the cause of every type of altercation.  My theory is that for a conflict to arise, two conditions must be present:

  1. Someone feels like they’re not being heard.
  2. Nobody gives a damn.

Both conditions have to be in force for an argument, even a war, to start.  Occasionally you may feel like you’re not being heard, but you always know your mother gives a damn about how you’re doing.  Or your good solid friend who’s always got your back, but some people live in a constant state of feeling ignored, and it can lead to a host of troubles.

If we could all agree to listen fully to everyone to whom we speak today, we might find that we’re meeting our friends for the first time.  It could be the start of a quiet revolution.

  Sounding Board

Help me hear all those who are trying to reach me.
Truthful but tactful, diplomatic but direct.
Please help me to mean what I say.
Give me the ability to look past small slights
and get to the story behind the infraction.
Help me hear what isn't said.
As I go through my own life's travels,
inspire me to lend an ear even when I'm in a hurry or in a bind.
Make it possible for us all to sense the need in an angry tone,
the fretful love in a stressed mother's voice,
the silent screams in heavy hearts.

-Ruth Williams

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