Monday, December 22, 2008

Listening with Love

I heard a sermon about love this last weekend. The speaker had a list of things that we should do with love. One of them was to “listen” with love. I had never considered that before and had to think for a bit about what it meant.


For most of us, hearing is easy, but listening is hard. Listening really means “to attend closely.” It Is qualitative hearing. Hearing something so as to discern exactly what the speaker is trying to say, not using that speech as a shuttlecock to immediately bat back over the net. It seems to me that “to listen with love” adds a further dimension, that being that you listen to any statement with an empathetic attitude. That you listen from the speaker’s point of view to try to truly understand his or  statement, not simply as a straight line setting up the punch line of  your own views. Listening is a way, indeed the only way we have to truly get inside another human beings mind.


From a personal point of view, I can’t imagine anything harder. Not only was I born with a suspicious and cynical personality, but I was given three years of intense training in law school to listen from a critical point of view and to pick apart, often try to destroy, the idea the speaker has. It is the way I have earned my living for thirty years. It can’t be turned off by a sermon or a Sunday School lesson. Does it need to be ?


I believe that listening with love is not something that can be divided up in your life between your work time and the balance of your day. I don’t think that it can be turned on and off like a shower, although I wondered  if, like the shower, you can eventually adjust the hot and cold water to reach a satisfying temperature. I doubt it. You are empathetic or you are not. We have no word in the English language for half empathy. We do use the term “half listening”,  I believe that to be an almost oxymoronic  term, similar to “multi tasking”. Half listening is no listening. You may as well try to half talk as half listen and claim that presenting 50% of your speech is communicating. So what is one to do ? How does one “listen with love” ? 


Maybe to listen with love you have to “listen for love”. Every statement that a person makes in life has some component of love within it. The majority of love in statements made by humans is  “self love”. It is equally important to be able to listen for statements of self love, as for any other kind of love, in order to understand the speaker. In fact, it is often a good deal easier. All of us are familiar with self love.99.99% of the people who have ever lived on the earth have spent the vast majority of their days pursuing some form of it. It is what makes the baby cry for his breakfast and it is the single most important component to the survival of the species. That makes it pretty easy to listen for, but not so easy to listen to. Those awakened by a baby for a 3:00 a.m. feeding will know what I mean. Even those of us who nudged our wives to wake up understand it a little.


So as we enter 2009, I am going to make an effort to listen for love, so that I can listen with love. That may mean that I don’t speak as much and will certainly  mean that I will not reply rapidly to any given statement. These changes will be noticed and welcomed by everyone who converses with me. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will make life more enjoyable (self love again).We shall see.


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