Hush up and listen


By Jessica Brodie

Have you ever been in a conversation with a bad listener? Someone whose attention just wasn’t focused on you, or who’d cut you off in the midst of your bad-day tale with a one-upper tale of their own? Someone so quick to give advice that the tables were turned and you were the one forced into listening mode?

I cringe to admit it, but I was that bad listener awhile back.

Some of it was a mistaken attempt at empathy on my part. “Surely they’re coming to me because they want my advice,” I’d tell myself, or, “Surely they’ll feel better if they knew I could relate to them because I, too, have been through a trial.” But sometimes, I was just too self-absorbed. I didn’t care enough to stop what I was doing. Or I felt uncomfortable and awkward, so I felt the need to fill the silence of listening with my own words.

But as my journey as a Christian deepened, I began to look at my encounters with others through a Jesus lens. All my life, I’d heard the “Golden Rule,” to “do unto others” as I would have done to me, but the language felt so abstract and archaic, so far removed from my life in the 21st century.

Then I began reading the Bible from cover to cover using a new translation, the Common English Bible, and the stories came to life in a new way. Twice in the Gospels, Jesus tells His followers to give, share, say or do what they’d want to receive in return, and this time, the message hit home.

“Treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:12 (CEB), and his phrasing is only slightly different in Luke 6:31: “Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.”

It’s there in the “second greatest commandment” Jesus named, too: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Do I do this? I wondered. Shame prickled as I realized the answer: Not always.

I began to pay attention to my dealings with others, to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. And as the weeks passed, I realized where I’d been going wrong—especially when it came to listening.

Today, I try hard to be the listener I'd want listening to me. Whether it’s my husband or my child, a colleague or a random stranger, I do my best to tune out distractions, look them in the eye, and bite my tongue. I don’t even worry about what I want to say next—sometimes, all that’s required is a simple “I hear you” and a sympathetic facial expression or a hug.

It’s made a difference in how I love others—and how others feel loved by me.

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