Listen to me!

When you rearrange the letters in the word ‘listen,’ you get silent. There’s a lesson here…

In 1994, I had the privilege to hear Dr. Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” speak. Covey’s book had been published six years prior, and he commanded quite a following. The only habit I recall from that day is “Seek first to understand before trying to be understood.” That hit me like a tidal wave. Covey was describing the lost art of active listening. Fast forward to today and listening isn’t merely lost; listening is practically extinct!

How often do you find yourself in conversation, but instead of actively listening to your counterpart you are already thinking about what you’re going to say next? You heard them, but you didn’t listen to them.

We live in a divided world: Republicans v. Democrats; Christians v. atheists; even Christians v. Christians. People get into theological fist-fights over whose religion is the “true” religion. People waste, I mean spend so much time trying to convince others to see things their way that potential dialogue is lost. We have lost our sense of decency and decorum. Even optimists like me want to throw in the towel sometimes.

Why has it become difficult to be considerate of others with whom we may not agree? Are we so vain we believe our opinions are the only ones that matter? Relationships become fractured over differences of opinions. I don’t think it has to be this way. I believe we can find common ground and understand each other better, but we must be willing. Willing to be silent, willing to listen, and willing not to look for a reason to argue.

In the 1980’s, President Reagan and House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill couldn’t stand each other. It’s been said they hated each other. Yet the two political adversaries found a way to forge a solid working partnership which placed the needs of our country above politics and party. Both men stayed true to their values, but found common ground from which they could work. Each man realized they needed each other to save the country from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and were big enough to put aside personal differences.

When Reagan was shot, O’Neill came to Reagan’s bedside in the hospital and they prayed together. In 1986, O’Neill’s beloved Boston College decided to build a library in honor of O’Neill. A fundraising dinner was held at The Washington Hilton (where Reagan was shot) and the keynote speaker was…Ronald Reagan! Take a moment to think about that-a popular Republican President speaking at a fundraiser for a political foe. Would that, or, could that happen in 2018?

I have a theory, and it goes like this: when we engage in conversation with people with whom we disagree, we are presented with an opportunity to learn from each other; to make each other better. We grow, and our thinking is challenged and stretched. Surrounding ourselves solely with people who think and believe like us is insecurity. You are looking to affirm your beliefs by others. Be willing to let yourself be challenged. And challenge others.

So, give it a try. Be willing to really listen. You may see the world through different eyes…