The Power of Listening

As I sit here writing this, I’m enjoying the peaceful feeling that we’ve all experienced at some point. You know the feeling: after having opened our homes to guests of family and friends for a holiday get together or a dinner party, once the guests have all left and the dishes are washed and put away, we sit down, tired, but thankful for having enjoyed the opportunity to provide a time of fellowship, food, and fun for ones we love.

In this instance it wasn’t our family home but our parish family home that was open, having welcomed the extended Christian community (and beyond) for a conference reflecting on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

We received many questions and even criticism from some people confused on why an Orthodox parish would put on such an event. Apparently, some confine a proper Orthodox interaction with those outside our Faith to be simply the education and correction of those who teach beliefs that differ from ours. To be sure, there are times for such direct and one-way communication, but I believe there are many other times in which it’s appropriate to invite a conversation, to engage our capacity to compassionately hear and understand where someone is coming from, even if we find disagreement with where that is. In short, there is power in listening.

In our polarized, insecure world we are drawn to exercise our power by talking to and at people and can feel that listening either makes us look weak or that by listening we imply that we agree with the person we’re listening to. What we experienced at the Conference we held was that much can be communicated through listening. There was much open and honest dialogue as well, but there was also the power of listening. The power of listening is none other than patience, respect, and love. These are not only good qualities, these are divine qualities.

Whether it’s through church conferences, conversations at work, or talking with our spouses, children, parents, and other family members and even on Facebook and other social media (or rather, maybe ESPECIALLY on social media), we can both improve our world and be better followers of Christ by practicing to be better listeners.

In his Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey outlines his findings on just what makes someone successful in life, in the various areas of relationships, business, etc. Having studied many people recognized by many for their success, he outlines seven habits that are not only present but prominent in all of them. Among those seven habits, he lists the quality of listening, by naming Habit #5: Seek first to Understand and then be Understood.  He explains that when we do the opposite—when we seek first to be understood and then to understand (which most of us do most commonly) we never get to being understood because the other is also waiting to be understood before they seek to understand.

If you’re not convinced that listening is an especially Christian thing to do, read a Gospel—pick any of the four—and read for as long as you can, looking for how often Christ engaged in listening, and not just preaching. Look for how many questions He asks and look for how much He listens. He most certainly spoke powerful words, the most powerful the world has ever heard, but He spoke loudest in the silence from the Cross and in the patience of His listening. In fact, He’s still listening. The most powerful proof of the power of listening can be discerned in the depth of deep prayer, when we speak to God, and are transformed by the power of His listening to us. Let’s recognize the power God shows us by listening to us, and let’s share that power with those around us by being strong enough to listen.