Last weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with some old friends from the Army. It was a great time remembering old stories and hearing how they are doing in life.
During one of our talks, I had a mini revelation. This was one of the few times I was fully present in the moment. When someone was talking, I was completely immersed in the story. I was interested in what the other person was saying without the desire to interrupt the flow. There were no thoughts of what I was going to say next. In fact, there was no thoughts of the past or the future. I was completely in the present.
Being present is one of the great challenges of my life. There is so much going on in my head, all the time. But letting go of this unnecessary “stuff,” I found myself in a state of bliss. I was free of worry and anxiety. As I thought about this experience, I realized that this state of being is where I need to be more often. How much better would I be? How much more will my family, friends, and coworkers appreciate an attentive person to talk to?
How did I do it?
First, I put my phone in airplane mode and set it down in another room. Without this perpetual distraction, I was more engaged with the others.
Next, I became genuinely interested in the others. This was easy. These were old friends I wanted to spend time with. But what if this was someone else? Would I have been able to do it? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing. My friends, just like anybody else, were talking about things that were important to them. Knowing that it was deemed important for them to share, I felt it was important for me to listen. People want to share with others what they believe is important or at least relevant to the conversation. By listening to them, we can listen to a different perspective. Fully present, we can see the world through the lens of their eyes. This is a chance many miss when they only concentrate on what they are going to say next. I have missed that chance too many times in my life. I hope the experience from last weekend is a turning point in my attentiveness to others.
I read books. When I read, I don’t talk. I “listen” to the words of another. As I read, my mind sometimes tend to wonder. I start thinking other thoughts that do not have anything to do with the book in hand. I think about the things I read. I want to say something, but the author won’t hear me. I can meditate on it. I can discuss it with others. I can even write about it when I’m not actually reading it. I have many options available to me, but the best option is to read, to digest it, and then to think about it.
I have many conversations throughout the course of a day. When someone else is talking, I don’t talk. I listen. As I listen, my mind sometimes tend to wonder. I start thinking other thoughts that do not have anything to do with what I am hearing. I also think about the things I hear. I want to say something, but the person I am conversing with really wants to say her part without me interrupting her. I can let her finish. I can think on it. I can discuss it with her or, if appropriate, with others. I have many options available to me, but the best option is to listen, to digest it, and then to think about it…before I offer my opinion.
Yes, this was redundant, but I felt it was necessary. On occasion I start talking, and I can’t shut up. When I get in trouble by saying or writing the wrong things, it is because I kept on going, when it was best to zip it. It is a fault in discretion. I’m not thinking; I’m just going. What I am not doing when this happens is listening. So many problems can be avoided if I would only shut up and listen.
The less men think, the more they talk. –Montesquieu
Imagine being outside your defensive perimeter listening for any signs of the enemy. While there is safety in numbers, you are alone, in the dark. Just you and the jungle. Not even the jungle in your backyard, this jungle belongs to the enemy. You have been out patrolling all day. You are tired, hungry, and all your nerves are frazzled. You are trying to listen for the enemy, but instead you hear everything else. You try to filter it out. Isolate what is real and what is imagined. Not only is your life at stake, but the lives of those depending on you inside the lines.
Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking. –Bernard Baruch
Listening. It is not easy. It may be one of the lessons that my son struggles with more than anything else. His performance in school is directly related to his ability to listen. When he is talking, he is not listening. If he is not listening, he is not learning. At the age of 5, even the slightest distractions affect his ability to properly listen.
Listening is a skill that takes time to master. Living in this age of distraction, even the good listeners will struggle. But if you want to be successful, you have to be able to listen. You need to listen to your audience. You need to listen to your customers. You need to listen to the guide posts that will keep you going in the right direction.
So what’s at stake? You may not be at the listening post in enemy territory, but there may still be people depending on you. They need you to achieve the success you are looking for. Take time today to truly listen. Filter out all the noise and isolate what is real.
Listen to counsel and receive instruction that you may eventually become wise. –Proverbs 19:20
Knowledge can be passed on. So can understanding. You can be smart, and be without wisdom. I wish I could give you wisdom, but I cannot. You have to find it for yourself. It will not come to you overnight. It is a process. A very long, arduous process. One, that hopefully you will be striving for your whole life.
Though I can’t give you wisdom, I can give you a tip. It is a key to unlocking this door. Listen to those who are wise. Let them be your teachers. Find the ones that are on the right path and learn from them.
Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may eventually be wise. -Proverbs 19:20