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No bullshit

Listening and taking people seriously

Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

—Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

Over the past few months, I've realized that a common thread in my relational struggles is trying to figure out how to take people seriously. Not that I don't; rather, I try, but regularly find that I'm hearing something different from what they may be saying or meaning (and to further the confusion, those two often aren't the same thing). Much of the time, I hear what it would mean for me to say what I'm hearing, and that's rarely the same. And though I don't want to be vain (or at least don't want anyone to believe I am), the truth is that, because of a heap of counseling training, I'm probably better equipped to listen than most. So when I hit a wall in the process, simple tips, tricks, and techniques rarely have much to offer.

What does it mean to really hear people, and how far am I really called to go in the effort? On the surface, it seems like one of those always-good, always-right, always-noble pursuits, but that assumption is worth examining rather than swallowing whole "just because." Right away, I have to acknowledge that I'm limited, which means A) I can't do everything, and 2) what I actually can do will also be imperfect and limited. That's a basic ground rule for life on Earth, one which clearly applies in listening. It doesn't preclude trying or being faithful—I'm called to trust in God's grace more than I trust in my own perfection.

With that understanding in mind, and in light of the Teacher's musing above, I have to admit that I can't figure out how to take people seriously much of the time, and that it's far from a universally good pursuit over which I should constantly exhaust myself. Being tired isn't the only cost, either—so often, I'm angry when I hear people say they value something, then live in an entirely different fashion. The more I try to take what I hear from people seriously, the more my nose is rubbed into that gap. And I hate it. Hate it.

None (or at best, few) of us are who we'd like to believe ourselves to be. I'm certainly not. Could it be that truth and grace sometimes (perhaps often) calls us to not take seriously what we hear from others? How do we do this in a way that's not dismissive, or is that simply the cost of our not speaking truthfully to one another (and indeed, to ourselves)?

Also, there's the question of scale: how many people should I try to hear at all? Of these, how many should I work to take seriously? The obvious starting point is "not everyone," but our culture still suggests I can do more than may be possible or good. At risk of being too "meta," online journals and blogs are great examples of this trend*: we can publish and read thoughts far outside the context of full relationship (or even personhood), then try to discern their meaning in the absence of relational cues (even with those we know), with as many "people" as we can jam into our browsers. When does that stop being scalable, and when does it stop being good? And how does intimacy factor in, knowing that our writings may reflect us at our most filtered and deluded, even when we might want to view them as authentic and raw?

No answers, just open questions, along with the slowly dawning realization that I may be regularly fighting the wrong battles on far too many fronts.


*I first met my wife through LiveJournal, so I'd be hard pressed to view this situation through a Luddite lens (can Luddites have lenses?). But I have to, have to consider the realities and their implications.

Comments

It's hard not to be a total cynic, isn't it?

It'd (seemingly) be a lot easier! There's almost certainly a lot of INTJ stuff in the way I struggle with all of this—what it even means for me to express a thought outside of my own head is very different from lots of other people, not to mention what I would mean by that thought.

When I hear others, I assume they must have thought about what they're saying and must mean it (by my definitions of thinking and meaning), and that's often simply not so. But to assume they haven't thought about it and/or don't mean it seems terribly dismissive. So I'd love to find a way to listen that's not as hard (on me and on others) as the first route, but not as seemingly arrogant as the second. And I confess I'm not sure how, or with how many people it's realistic for me to do that.

Under it all, I have the nagging question of whether any of us really wants to be taken seriously. Of course we do, but then again, how much are we ready (or even equipped) to really think about and mean what we say? What's the truthful, loving way for us to hear one another? What if less is more?
It's true that most people don't think about what they're saying. And when they DO think about what they're saying, most people are thinking with a whole different set of motivations and values and priorities.

To a person who is emotionally driven and of an extreme sympathetic nature, there will be times when saving someone else's feelings is preferable to the truth--no matter how vital that truth may be, and sometimes the feelings they save are their own. In a sense, I think we must always take people seriously, but we have to do so after taking them into consideration. Is the person I'm talking to motivated by needing to appear important to everyone around him? Is she someone who needs to mother every person in her acquaintanceship? Once we consider where this person is coming from, we can better know what should be taken seriously, and what can be safely discarded as irrelevant--praying all the time that God will give us the wisdom and compassion to know the difference, and the humility to realize that we undoubtedly put other people to just as much trouble on some level we don't recognize.

At least, this is how it works for me on a good day. It's time consuming and tiring, and after a while I start to feel like someone else should cut me some slack once in a while.

(Anonymous)

I struggle with these same issues...and...don't have any answers.

Perhaps you have learned more in the last year???

Anyway, thank you for writing.

:)