Last weekend was special because I saw some of my granddaughters whom I had not seen in a while, due to their family and work commitments whenever Douglas and I are in Atlanta. While sitting down to talk, I found myself on my birthday trying to be heard among a group of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who seemed not to know how to listen to others.
I was appalled at their inability to wait until someone had fully expressed their thoughts and opinions, relative to their own, before they started in with their disagreements. They were screaming their opinions of my words to each other, while I was still talking!
I had to raise my voice to ask for silence. They were shocked to see Grandma Gina get upset. When you see people seldom, you tend to show your good side, or maybe I just wanted to be known as the “fun” grandmother. Whatever the case, I took off the mask and got their attention. I implored them to respect each other, by permitting the other person to finish their thoughts before giving their own opinions.
I had been trying to teach my granddaughters that their worth and value should not be measured by others, as they had talked about the exorbitant amount of money spent on nail care and hair care. One of them said that she had so many pairs of sneakers that “my room looks like a Foot Locker store.”
But, I don’t know if anything I said registered, because they were, at the same time, trying to explain to me that as young women, they needed to look good to draw men’s attention, if they wanted to ever marry. I nearly didn’t hear them for the high decibel levels of their speech.
I have seen this among adults discussing politics, religion, war, or other subjects. People don’t seem to know how to listen any more. It’s as if they think they will miss giving their opinion or be rendered invisible, if they don’t scream or constantly interrupt others with different opinions.
I could swear that it was different when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. I know that if I had interrupted one of my aunts while they were talking, I would have been getting up off the floor. Listening skills were taught in schools, as teachers would tell you to let the other person finish their thoughts before you answered them. It was meant as a way to teach us to really hear with our ears and hearts and minds what other people were saying.
Screaming to be heard while someone is expressing an opinion has become radioactive to civil discourse. You see it on news channels and even in churches. Children see it among adults at sports events, and it is becoming part of the cultural norm. And I hate it!
How will we ever return to civility and respect for each other’s opinions if we fail to truly listen to people who think differently, so we can understand why they don’t see the world as we do? Matthew 11:15 (NLT), “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” The King James version, which I learned, says, “He that hath ears, let him hear.” It means open your ears so you can understand.
Listening allows us to absorb what is being said, so that we can intelligently evaluate what is being said and its value to us. True listening is a form of discernment, and you can not learn to be discerning without first learning to listen carefully. Sowing good listening skills results in a crop of understanding that allows people to start respecting others’ opinions. It is exhilarating to know that you have been heard and respected.
Last Saturday, Grandma Gina had to get ugly to get everyone to shut up and hear each other. There has to be a better way to teach children the art of listening, including respecting and valuing other people’s opinions even if they differ from your own. What are some of your thoughts on how to get back to the art of listening that earlier generations valued and which we seem to have lost?