From a young age girls are told to sit quietly by and listen so it should be no surprise that listening skills are considered a feminine attribute. This subconscious programming can be to our advantage allowing us to gather information while gaining the favour of others. Yet, sometimes we are just going through the motions- we may appear to be listening but we aren’t really hearing. We’d all benefit by listening in the name of love.
Too often we sit passively, not doing other things but also not paying attention. It’s like we have turned off the sound on the TV! Other times we only hear the things with which we agree, we tune out dull topics or jump to conclusions assuming the point the speaker is making. Then, instead of listening, we interrupt!
True listening goes beyond hearing. We need to be actively engaged. Listening closely, requires really paying attention and endlessly focusing every molecule of our being to truly hear. The Benedictines describe listening carefully as attending to others with the ‘ear of your heart’. A good listener not only takes in the words, they note changes in the tone of voice, verbal ques and body language to understand what is being said.
If we are truly attentive, we will be prepared to take action on what we hear. Without the openness to accept what you hear or willingness to make change, it is not apparent that we have actually heard the other’s words at all. I watched this happen so often in my corporate career when a weak manager would ask about a problem and rather than listening to the answer, they would be planning a convincing rebuttal in their head. On the flip side, the real leaders, asked, openly listened and were ready to make change based on what they heard. These leaders built trust and garnered respect.
Its difficult to listen to others that have opposing viewpoints, especially those we see as uncaring, misogynistic, racist or intolerant. If we have made a commitment to listen, how do we deal with that? Remember that just because you listen it doesn’t mean that you have to agree or corroborate polarized opinions. Remind yourself that you are listening to better understand them – to practice and grow your own tolerance.
As Dale Carnegie said, “Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism, and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness”.
But listening to contrary opinions, especially those delivered with an overabundance of emotion is easier said than done. When you find yourself ready to react, pay attention to the sensations in your body and focus on your breathing. Release the pressure that wants to judge the other and defend your personal views. Look at yourself from above and try to stay curious enough to be changed by what you hear. Listening does not validate other’s opinions, it validates them as a member of the human race. And that in turn validates you. We are all part of the whole of humanity.
In addition to listening to others, we need to listen to ourselves. Most of us ignore the inner voices that support and guide us and we need to LISTEN to them! Abraham Lincoln called this the “better angels of our nature.” Deep inside each of us is a kind, inclusive self that can be trusted. Reflection gives us access to acknowledge that inner voice and by listening to it we will act from our highest self for our greater good. Reflection also slows us down as we patiently wait for our inner wisdom to come through. It can be scary though as true listening is an act of surrender. Who knows how it could change us to really listen and act upon it?
True listening to others and to ourselves is really another mindfulness practice. In the same way that giving our full attention to washing the dishes and admiring the bubbles in the soap or listening to the rich overtones in the song of a bird, listening allows us to be fully present. And when that happens we open heart communication. Listening without interruption and with our full being allows true communication to occur. Listening with love is the benefit of the Feminine whether you are a man or a woman.