Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen

Most of my PhD work consists in reading and then writing down my analysis of what I read. Often I disagree with the people I am reading, yet I still need to represent them accurately. I can't pick and choose the quotes that I work to advance my argument and ignore the context in which those quotes appear. What I am learning over the course of this PhD is that a solid 90% of my writing is just learning to listen carefully.

It is funny how that skill transfers over to so many other areas of my life. I am sure all of us can think of those time when you are in a conversation and you know where someone is going, so you stop listening and start formulating your response. I am guilty of this. I do it all the time. Yet, what my research is teaching me to do is slow down, listen, and make sure I actually understand what the person is saying before I respond. It is teaching me that I need to be careful about jumping to conclusions without really understanding the whole context. (i.e. A person says "I can't stand the crowds of tourists on the Royal Mile." My response shouldn't be "Why do you hate immigration, you fascist?". I should listen and try to understand what the person is saying.)

Listening is an acquired skill. By nature we are all selfish and think our opinions matter. We want people to hear what we have to say. Yet, learning to listen can open doors of communication with people with whom we disagree. Learning to listen can open up opportunities for us to learn from each other. Learning to listen can help us build friendships with people to whom we naturally would never talk with.

I love doing this research because it is forcing me to acquire this skill. However, I am sure that I didn't need to do this work to learn to listen. Ultimately learning to listen is put into practice what the Bible says: 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” - Mark 12:28–31

It is learning to obey both the first and second great commands because when we learn to love God with all of our being, we also learn to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we learn to love God we learn to listen to him and that in turn teaches us to listen to each other.

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