We’ve been told to listen before. There are articles calling us to “listen to hear, not to respond,” pages of bullet points on how to be a professional listener and guides on perfecting the “lost art of listening.” Those are all good and fine, in their place. They can be informative for presentations and interviews, or if you need a refresher in conversation techniques. But they get rather tiring. They are all focused on you, the reader, and your listening. What we need is practice. Real opportunities to listen well.
This message is about other people’s stories. It’s about how going to Chicago for a week and having black roommates made me realize that I did not know what I thought I did when I came to college. Actually, I know next to nothing, even after a year and a half of new experiences and interactions. Hearing true stories from people who are completely different from me continually opens my eyes to how complex the world is.
The world we live in is not just you and me. It’s not just your family, neighborhood, or high school. The world is every country, race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, fear, abuse, addiction, and political opinion that exists. Those things are not “out there” in the big wide somewhere.
They are right here on campus, surrounding us. JBU has a variety of all of the things that make up the world, but do you know anyone here with an opinion that is different than your own? Let me follow that up with, do you listen to and respectfully interact with this person on a daily basis?
This is not an idea for you to pass over with a quick yes or no. This is something I want you to consider and comprehend fully before moving on. I never want you to stop asking yourself these questions. Who am I listening to and are their ideas only the same as mine? We are here at a University to learn and grow as students but also as people. We are forming foundational ideas about the world and creating habits that may last a lifetime. Evaluating our listening abilities is crucial to our future success in our careers and relationships.
You do not know how to listen. Although you may argue otherwise, here’s how I know. You still make jokes like “triggered” and “that’s so gay.” You do not understand why you can’t say the n-word and you think people of other ethnicities are “getting too many free handouts.” You assume you know why someone is sad, sleeping around, smoking, drinking, or missing classes, yet you have not had conversations with them. You do not see your actions as wrong because you do not listen to the people you are belittling. They are the ones who can explain why something is offensive.
Authority does not belong to you until you have truly experienced something. If you are not depressed, do not speak as though you are. If you are white, do not deny that racism and oppression exists. If you are not homosexual, do not condemn people who are. If you are a man, do not tell a woman how she is feeling. All in all, do not speak over something you do not understand.
Even if you have a small glimpse into another perspective, like research on anxiety or a week long mission trip to Mexico, this does not give you authority on that matter. It is important that you are learning more about other areas of the world, but it is also important for you to continue to listen. Listening well urges you to listen more often, and suddenly you’re hearing new perspectives and life stories every day. You begin to realize what you do not know, and you start to know more. This should be our goal. Not for our voices to be heard, but to hear other people’s voices and understand their pieces of our world better.
So try not talking at people. Try asking open ended questions and never interrupting, even if your point is great. You already know your point. Learn their point. Listen well to love well and live well. I know you can, and I think you should.
What do you think? Please email me or catch me on campus. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece, but I’d most love to hear the new interactions you have because you chose to listen.