Monday, November 1, 2010

Lessons From Preschoolers

As Eloise ate breakfast this morning and we talked about going to school, she announced Today, Mama, I'm going to be a good listener!

That's awesome sweetheart, I said.  So am I, I hoped.

In college the Freshman class all received t-shirts that said SPEAK on the back of them.  It had many different meanings to be sure.  A couple:  1.  Our school had a Southern speaking tradition.  You say Hey or Hello or Howdy or Whatsup Dude! when you pass someone on campus.  That's just what you did because that's polite.  And it made for a wonderful community.  2.  Speak your mind.  Speak up.  Don't be afraid to be yourself.  All wonderful things to do.

But about 9 years ago, I thought to myself, I wish all those shirts said LISTEN because everyone is making too much noise!  

Fast forward a few years to our seminary experience in Ambridge, Pennsylvania where I had the distinct opportunity to learn from 2 of the best teachers in the Christian world today, Mary and Paul Zahl.  The spouses of seminarians (who all worked their tails off as their spouses enjoyed seminary classes and were insanely jealous of them the entire time) had some night meetings on campus where we enjoyed speakers and small groups and fellowship together.  I remember one night quite vividly.  The night Mary Zahl spoke on listening.  The gift you can give when you actually stop talking and listen to someone else.

That was hard.  I sat with my friend Kate.  We were supposed to take turns sharing and listening.  One person shared about anything they wanted for 5 minutes straight.  The other listened without interruption.    No interruptions at all...pure listening.  It was such a revealing exercise.  

1.  Listening is really hard.  I kept wanting to say, Oh me too!  Now you listen to my story about that . . .  Which would have turned the whole exercise back to me.  Because I'm selfish like that.  

2.  Sharing for 5 minutes straight is really hard.  As you speak you reveal new insights to yourself that can be quite difficult.  Like this, Today I had a student who annoyed the crud out of me.  He's such a difficult kid.  I have no patience for him.  In fact I have no patience for anyone because I'm really exhausted and overwhelmed at work.  I'm not sleeping because I keep waking up with bad dreams because I'm worried about how little money we have . . .  As I talk and talk and talk, I can get to the root of my problem.

Listening is sacrificial.  It's taking the "me" out of the equation.  Not my opinions or my advice or my stories or my empathy or my understanding.  It's all about the friend who is sharing.  

The more we listen, the more we know about the other person, the more we understand them, the better we can love them.  This is not Christian talk or religious talk, it's relational talk.  It can be with your husband, your daughter, your neighbor.  It can be about politics or parenting styles or beliefs.  After listening, we can think Oh that's why you insist on owning a gun.  Because you had a break-in while you were alone one night and you are terrified it will happen again.  I understand you better now.  May not agree, but I can understand.

Most often we just take turns talking at each other.  Like a political debate.  While one person talks, the other is preparing their response.  Not listening, just taking turns talking about ourselves.  Because we are all selfish like that. 

And that is why I want to be a better listener.  Just like Eloise said, Today I'm going to be a good listener.


Molly said...

tell elo that tomorrow I'm going to wake up and remember what she said. then I'll try real real hard to listen all day long. I'll let you know how it goes.

Brookie said...

Great insight, Emily. Thank you for sharing.

Dorry said...

This is so insightful and full of truth. I think about this a lot because I know my inclination oftentimes is to jump in and tell my story of the time I felt like...XYZ. You (and Eloise) have reminded me to be a better listener. Thank you. :)

Alex and Emily said...

Great post!