With the rise of social media, chatbots, artificial intelligence and the media coverage around it all, the spotlight remains on the squeaky wheel which gets the grease. The quiet contributor in the corner, the child who seeks to share, and the person who has learned to pay it forward; these are the listeners. These are the people who want to listen with the intent to understand. But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I was one of those people. If asked, I might say, I too listened with the intent to understand. Then something happened. I posted some of my political views based on my experiences of youth – I’m a left leaning Democrat from a Republican family. And when a family member disagreed with my point of view, I replied by deleting the entire post, their comments included. The blood rush that someone didn’t agree with me, had superseded my innate desire to try to understand the other side of the story.
A lifetime of reactionary measures had laid the groundwork. If you don’t like it, just delete it, drop it, or forget it. But then, there’s the other side of it, too. The intent to reply.
Not to break it down specifically by gender, there still prevails the notion that men listen to “fix” a problem, and reply that way. While women listen under the guise of listening to understand, but ultimately, they want to “fix” something, too. In conversations, both sides interject, sometimes agreeing, sometimes trying to top the other person’s story, and sometimes there is the rare person, who does listen to understand.
A childhood friend lost her young husband to kidney failure. They’d been married only one year. To process her loss, she blogged a book. The title stemmed from one kind word someone had told her in the hospital. There were no platitudes of thoughts and prayers. This one person listened with their heart and said simply, “I understand.” She may not have understood the pain and suffering, but she understood platitudes were empty of true thought and heart. “It was a blessing,” my friend wrote. “The Blessing of I Understand.” The person who spoke so eloquently in simplicity is rare, and admittedly, this story is over a decade past its telling.
We no longer slow down to stop and smell the roses, if we ever really did. How many of us can just be still in our minds and bodies as we breathe in the flower’s fragrance? No, we make the motion of smelling; we close our eyes and inhale its aroma while we think about the next thing which needs doing. Even to ourselves we don’t listen with the intent to understand. We reply by reading, watching, or listening to what’s popular. We wonder why strangers look at us and if they’re not, we wonder why not. We wonder what our friends or family are doing and if when we meet we’ll measure up. We wander amidst a haze of assumptions that what we’re doing is right as decided by those around us.
While I’ve always liked to think I can see both sides of the argument, and though one semester of debate team does not a debater make, and from what I’ve seen in recent days and years, I agree with Steven Covey’s statement. I agree our capacity to want to “fix” outweighs our capacity to simply accept and understand what someone might tell us. Ultimately, I agree most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. Our reply puts us on center stage. Listening to understand puts the other person center stage. And if all the world’s a stage, then it’s awfully crowded in the middle.