Are you a good listener? I hope to think I am. But I am not always. I sometimes get distracted, or think of my response while another person is speaking. I am always amazed how unimaginative the conversations in my family progress when I am not being a good listener. This happens a lot when my time is squeezed. “Are you ready to go?” I will ask my daughter. “No, I am not going” she will answer. My response, “why not?” sometimes lands more like an accusation than an invitation to share.
When time is tight, our questions may invite in only yes/no answers. When we have a little bit more time and space, we all have it in us to ask more inviting questions. When I can turn to my daughter and ask, “tell me about how it was for you…” she begins to share her personal story and feelings. Each sentence revealing a new layer. She feels heard and held.
Becoming a good listener is a constant process that begins with speaking less and pausing more. And engaging in the process holds great potential. As the Hasidic rabbi, the Sefat Emet writes in his commentary on Torah portion Re’eh, “listening is the faculty that holds blessing.” (Parashat Re’eh, 1866). The possibility of blessing lies in the closeness that is evoked between the one who listens and the one who shares.
I would certainly like to invite in more of that blessing into my life.
What if we learned how to ask open ended questions that led us to become more curious about other people’s lives? What if a question we asked could help others experience greater self–understanding? Questions that begin with, “Might you tell me more about…”, “Could you share a story when…”
And what if we started that project now, in the intimate spaces we create (either on zoom or around a table) with our friends and families this Thanksgiving?
Let’s give it a try, and let’s give each other our total focus, as David Brooks writes in his New York Times Piece Treat attention as all or nothing. “Total focus. I have a friend who listens to conversations the way congregnants listen to sermons in charismatic churches – with amens, and approbations. The effect is magnetic.”
Amen to staying focused on those we love this Thanksgiving and to listening to them a bit more deeply. That would be something to feel thankful for indeed,