If there is one skill that is seen as an essential regardless of time and trend, many would have proposed the art of speaking. It is true in the sense that your daily life starts with a “Good morning” and ends with a “Goodnight”. The ability to initiate, express, and maintain your conversation in a humorous and refreshing tone without sacrificing its content and relevance is something every person strives for to be able to make his perspective known by the whole world. Everyone wants to make sure their points are being listened to and appreciated like a clear full-moon on a starry night. However, Stephen R. Covey, the bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, made an interesting note which I quoted, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Looking through my short twenty-six years of living among people, I have to admit it rings a certain truth and I agree on the statement, depending on circumstances.
Unfortunately, I have my fair share of listening with the intention to retort. For instance, I always snapped in reply when my grandmother asked a seemingly meaningless question, like “Are you done yet?” when she should have seen that I was still having my lunch. In retrospect, I should have stopped and listened with an open heart. Could it be that she did not see I was still not done with my meal? For one, maybe she was trying to tidy up the dining table and asked out of courtesy. I should have listened. I should listen and try to understand in her shoes.
This tendency has also resulted in my regret for not having a good conversation with my mother before she left this world. Tracing back, I was never really a good listener. I was studying in New Zealand and rarely called her and chatted. She was the one who was keen to Skype and WhatsApp. When she was online, I merely phased her words through my ears. I did not remember a single word she said to me during my two years in New Zealand. At the end of previous year, she was bedridden. It was advanced breast cancer which started to fester two years ago when she sent me to New Zealand. Distraught, I was initially a caring and attentive son who really listened and helped her to recover.
It changed when she was admitted again and I was forced to end my dissertation without the final polish. I was irritated by the recurring illness and did not respond well to her. I merely replied in order to keep her away and even snapped sometimes. She was gone not long afterwards. Looking back, I should have listened to her every word. I should have looked at her as she was adamant at sending me abroad. I should have listened to the way she spoke and the tone she stressed. I should have opened my ears when she started to sound weak and avoid long conversations. If I listen. If only I have listened and understood the distress that loomed in her voice since two years ago, perhaps things might have turned out differently.
Maybe it is a tall order for someone to listen and understand completely the thought and the intention behind every word. However, the initiative to understand could make a lot of difference. For an example, a corporate meeting of staff would always develop into a battlefield of words with their own agenda and political reasons. The factions involved would always try to undermine and counter every idea and proposal created by their opposition. The scene is also applicable to larger stages such as parliamentary meetings and international summits. Taking these into consideration, would it be wise to deny and reply with mere vengeance, or take a step into the thoughts behind those proposals and understand the underlying merits and intentions before answering to the benefit of a company or a nation as a whole?
To be more relatable, let us put it in the context of everyday life. For a start, how would you speak to children? As energetic and curious as a five-year-old would be, how would you interact with children who are eager to learn about the world around them? Would you be as blunt and logical as you can while correcting their common senses and etiquettes to your liking? Or, would you put yourself through the eyes of five-year-olds as the world around them sparkles with unknown adventures and inspire them to take the first step into the world?
Furthermore, what about your partner in life? How would you talk to your wife or husband? How would you listen to someone who toiled their obligations as professional employees while balancing their responsibilities as a father, a mother, and a lifetime partner? Would you vie your dilemma and stress of work and life against each other for a ‘who-is-more-miserable’ competition? Or, would you share with each other the little pain and joy of your day and dissolve your feelings into a mutual understanding and love for all the troubles they had gone through for you?
In addition, what about your colleagues, your managers, and your friends? How would you talk and discuss your ideas, dreams, and proposals to the people who make up the rest of your environment and constitute your past achievement and future prospect? Would you raise your voice amidst discussions and debates to let your presumably relevant opinion sink in and elevate yourself above others? Or, would you hold yourself and listen to everyone before speaking up and taking references from others to formulate a sound plan while convincing everyone on the table?
Of all the scenes and interactions you could imagine, what is your reply? What do you know about the person you are talking to? Are you listening, or are you reacting to sensitive catchphrases? As I have lain out previously, there is no shame in admitting the choices that you had made, that you could make, and that you might make may not be the ones your counterpart was, is, and will be seeking for. It is only natural that we place our values and belief as a measuring mechanism against words from others. It is reasonable to filter the words and the meaning behind with your own set of rules. It is necessary for us to pace fast and produce faster and clearer results while conserving our energies.
On the other hand, there is a limit of for everything including understanding. Although we are the only limit we set on ourselves, there is no such thing as an endless tolerance. At some point, hearts would break and minds would snap. There are a lot of dilemmas and uncertainties in the world that you could not face alone. The issues of loss and bereavement are not something you could trespass insensitively. There are times to take a distance and observe from afar. Unwanted and uninvited involvement without a complete understanding would only breed annoyance and distaste.
Despite that, I would like to ask. Would you take the first step of understanding even though thorough understanding is impossible? Would you strive to be a little more patient? Would you set to be a little more sensitive? To accommodate endless questions of your children and encourage them to search for answers with you, the father and the mother. To love and cherish your life partner and willing to walk closer together amidst the raging sea of life. To exchange thoughts with each other and build for a better tomorrow with your colleagues, managers, and friends. Would you listen to your grandmother as she enjoys her twilight years? Would you listen to your mother as she nags you with her woe for your future? Would you listen? Would you try to understand even a little more?