How to Listen Well

It's Simple, but It's Not Easy

listening man -- how to listen well

In my last post I gave you four reasons why you’re probably a bad listener. At the time of this writing that post has had over 40 shares! I promised you I’d follow up with a post on how to listen well. I hope this is helpful.

To listen well, you must…

1. Cultivate presence

Listening is more than hearing, as I explained in my previous post.

Hearing happens on a biological level, but listening, at its best, is a spiritual exercise.

The heart of all authentic spirituality is learning to cultivate presence to God, learning how to truly “be with” God in the present moment. Listening well, then, requires learning how to do this in the presence of a fellow human being.

This is simple, but it’s not easy. To cultivate presence, you must learn to do the following:

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Why You’re Probably a Bad Listener

(Don't Be Offended, It's Normal)

What is Listening?

When I talk about “listening,” I do not mean passively allowing speech to enter your ear canal so that you can respond to it according to whether or not you agree, or with your own stories and perspectives. That’s just hearing, and hearing is biological.

But listening is a human act. Listening is hard work. Listening is the work of being fully present, fully attentive, to the person who is speaking. You can hear someone while you surf the net on your phone or watch television, but it’s impossible to really listen to them while thus occupied.

Fully listening to someone requires your utmost attention. It requires you to set aside your own agenda, the things you wish to say, the points you wish to make, even — and perhaps especially — when they are valid points, so that you can give your full attention to the person speaking to you.

There is far more than one way to be distracted and it happens more easily in your own mind than on your phone. You can be just as distracted once you put the phone down as you were before, unless you let go, let go, let go, and turn your full and total attention to the speaker. This will invariably involve actually turning your body toward them as well, when they are in your physical presence.

Here are some reasons why you, like most people, probably listen badly.

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Things I’m For

My Ideal World

things I'm for - lincoln determine a thing shall be done

I’m for equality, for justice for all, for caring about other people above asserting our own rights, for defending what’s good for most people rather than for 1% of us, for an end to bigotry, for kindness, for compassion, for courage, for an absolute commitment to, and unwillingness to shirk from, intelligence, for the idea that formal education by no means makes our ideas better than anyone else’s but it’s a good start, for all of us banding together to give no quarter to anyone who hates or fears people different from them, or who in any way believes other people to be less worthy of love and compassion than themselves.

I’m for the truth, however it presents itself, whether or not it agrees with my politics. I’m for being willing to change our minds. If you’re not interested in and open to the truth over your own political ideology, there are other pastors/writers who can deal well with you, but you’re not in my wheelhouse.

I’m for caring about the things Jesus cared about more than the things Ronald Reagan cared about, and for understanding the difference.

I’m for a world where everyone knows that another person living the way they want to live doesn’t in any way keep anyone else from living how they want to.

I’m for people pursuing God out of curiosity, courage, love, or interest, but not out of fear. I’m for a world where the only theology we care about is the theology that springs from compassion and loving others, so theological statements and doctrines are only useful when they help us to do that. I’m for a church and a world where love is the law, and it’s enough.

I’m for an end to violence of every single possible imaginable kind — emotional, spiritual, psychological, physical, social, verbal, economic, and I’m for searching myself to see where I might be perpetrating some of this violence unconsciously, and then doing what I have to do to address it.

I’m for a world where no one, ever again, says, “I love you, but…”

I’m for not towing the party line, whether that means me not towing it for the church when the church is wrong, cops not towing it for cops, teachers not towing it for teachers, whites not towing it for whites, gays not towing it for gays, blacks not towing it for blacks, for everybody being willing to learn to identify and root out the sickness in our own houses. I’m for seeing problems, naming them, and working to fix them.

I’m for religion that opens up questions and mystery, rather than making us certain and self-satisfied.

I’m for reading both the Bible and the Constitution openly, not in letter but in spirit, trying to discern what general point was intended and how that applies to us today, for wrestling with old documents and using them as guides, not as templates.

I’m for people taking personal responsibility, so saying things like “I am responsible for the world being the shitty place it often is,” and “I’m responsible for traces of racism, greed, and lack of empathy in my own heart.”

I’m for all people being considered worthy of basic love, respect, and humanness, even including bigots, as long as they don’t spew their bile onto other people.

I’m for the idea that America, in fact the world, isn’t a good place until it’s good for all of us.

Most of all, I’m for taking another step — today — to be the change I wish to see in the world.