By Blaney Pridgen
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
When teaching children, I often asked them to “give me your eyes and give me you ears.” Then we would go through the motions of cupping our ears and flipping our fingers before our eyes. That was usually good for five minutes, ten on better days. We often have to work at getting someone’s full attention and keeping it. At best, most people have an attention span of around fifteen minutes, if they are interested or at least trying to pay attention.
Giving deep sustained focus to what someone is trying to say is a skill and a gift of love. We choose to pay attention or not as the case may be. To be sincerely attentive to another cannot be faked for long. We’ve all had that experience of saying, “I don’t think you are really listening to me.” We’ve all had the bad tendency to be thinking about what we want to say next, while someone is talking to us or the group we are in. To do that while someone is filled with excitement or pouring their heart out is selfish and mean. Choosing to be a sincere listener requires letting others fall away from our attention to concentrate on the one. One of the others who must fall away is always ourselves. In an article I recently read, Simone Weil is quoted, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” We all need it. We too often fail to give it.
When we review our regrets and linger in remorse, we may wish that we had listened more to what others had to say. We may remember an individual who needed more of our “eyes and ears” than we were willing to give. The familiar “would’ve”, “could’ve”, “should’ve”, usually involves sustained and sincere listening that we did not do. What were we doing that mattered more than devoting our full attention to someone who needed it?
It’s not always a someone who needs our full attention. It might be a some thing. Heard these? “When the kids grow up, I’m going to ______.” “When I retire, I’m going to ______.” “When I get past _____, then I will _____.” When we say these things, we have too many distractions robbing too much of our attention. Pay attention and do it now or sooner not later.
I reckon we each have something or someone in our lives who need our attention. And perhaps we need to give that attention for ourselves as well as for their welfare. We’ve heard the familiar, tragic lament: “If I had only said something.” Another like unto it: “If I had only listened to her.” Saying something is too often stupid, hurtful, or just plain wrong. On the other hand, the gift of listening is almost always healing, loving, and remembered as sincere kindness.
Giving our attention and sustained listening has surprising goodies for the listener. Running one’s mouth exposes the fool. Listening exposes concern and caring in a non-anxious presence. We don’t have to apologize the next day for listening. Listening, closely and carefully, can be very revealing to quiet inquiring minds. Skilled and loving listeners gain captive audiences when they finally have something to say.
We don’t usually plan to listen. We plan to say something. Nonetheless, listening is an action plan. Choosing ahead to listen in an upcoming situation is in fact doing something, and more often than not, a wise something. Planning to listen is a face-to-face plan. One can listen on the phone, but without the value of non-verbal signals. Real listening requires skin, even if it is Skyped. Also, it’s advisable to announce that you are actively and devotedly listening. Otherwise, the person you are listening to might think you are bored or daydreaming, which is where they usually are when pretending to listen. Keep reminding them that you are really listening and really want to (not pretending.)
I’ve said enough. I would like to listen to you sometime.