Monday, February 4, 2019

Listening – and Other ‘Lost Arts’

Have you ever thought about the “lost arts” of our society? Take for example, letter writing. When was the last time you received a handwritten letter from someone? Or even a personalized note that didn’t come via email or text? 

Along the same vein, another lost art is cursive writing – you know, the ability to create words and sentences  in flowing script. Someone has quipped that some of the newly elected members of Congress probably can’t read the U.S. Constitution, “because it’s written in cursive.” We hear so much debate about the Left and the Right, but we’ve forgotten how to write.

Have you ever tried climbing
the Listening LADDER?
You can probably think of other lost arts, but one that comes to my mind is listening. Partly because I don’t do it nearly as diligently as I should. (As my wife could easily confirm.) But even more because it’s increasingly evident that fewer and fewer people have any interest in listening. They only want to be heard by others.

The problem is, people to whom they are directing their complaints, protests and general whining aren’t listening either. They may “hear” words being spoken, because hearing is a physical activity. But to listen requires mental exertion – willingness not only to receive sounds but also to pay heed to what they mean.

So what does it take to truly listen, as opposed to simply hearing what people say? Years ago as an adjunct professor in business communications for a couple of colleges, one of my handouts was the “LADDER Concept for Active Listening.” It was a useful tool back then, and given the times and tensions we’re in, it could be even more useful today. Here it is:

·       Look at the person
·       Ask for clarification
·       Don’t interrupt just because you think you have something to say.
·       Don’t change the subject.
·       Express what you feel.
·       Respond and give feedback.

Each of the six principles of this LADDER acronym is pretty much self-explanatory, but I think if we each resolved to observe and practice them consistently, we – and our world – would be much better off. The Bible agrees, because it says a lot about the art of listening, and what happens when it’s lost.

Perhaps one of the most direct admonitions in the Scriptures comes from James 1:19, which says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The tendency today is for people to be quick to tell others what they think and express when and why they’re mad. But not nearly as eager or adept at listening to what others have to tell us.

As someone astutely observed, God gave us two ears (for hearing), two eyes (for seeing) – and only one mouth (for speaking). Perhaps there’s good reason for that ratio.

In another passage, the apostle Paul wrote to those he was discipling, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice”  (Philippians 4:9). Seems he assumed they were actually listening to him, observing his actions and giving serious consideration to those things.

As I’ve written on other occasions, the book of Proverbs tells us much about communications, speaking and listening. But I always return to my favorite verse because it says so much in just a handful of words: “When there are many words, transgression is not avoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). When we refrain from speaking – as well as getting ready to speak – it’s amazing how much easier it is to listen.

It certainly won’t help to pass legislation requiring people to practice the LADDER Concept for Active Listening, but as Paul wrote, there’s nothing stopping us from serving as good examples for others to learn from and observe. I won’t make it a resolution, because chances are 10 minutes from now I’ll break it. But I do plan to make climbing this “ladder” a goal, one to work on and strive to do better every day. Want to join me?

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