Tag: listening

Listening is the way to wisdom

Listening is the way to wisdom.

You don’t have to be old to be wise.
You don’t have to be a genius to be wise.

You have to listen.

We can listen in so many ways. Listening in its most direct sense is a use of our ears to hear. But I’m using “listening” in the broader sense of paying attention, taking in information and experience and processing it.

The processing is important. Just as we can hear without listening, we can take in information and have experiences without paying attention and thinking through what we have encountered.

Why do we all need wisdom? Because it helps us live a better life, and life is extremely important — a gift from God, a one time for each one person, a passing thing, a joyous experience, a challenging experience.

But we also need wisdom because this life journey is not just about each of us; it is about the people we encounter. Wise people are more likely to be a blessing to those they encounter. They are less likely to say stupid things that cause pain and hurt.

Reading has been a primary means to wisdom for centuries. But do not despair if reading is not your thing. Before reading, humanity shared its wisdom vocally — telling stories and sharing insights. There is so much knowledge and understanding available today in audio podcasts and in video form. Of course, there is also a bunch of trash, just as there are trash books that do not grow wisdom but rather promote shallowness.

We choose what kind of person we want to be when we choose what we read, listen to, and watch. Take in thoughtful content, process it, and you will become a more thoughtful person.

Those of you who are talkers — like pastors, teachers, public speakers, and just conversationalists — have to be especially careful if you want to grow wise. Every moment you spend talking is time not spent learning.

Those who don’t like to talk so much, have a different challenge. This promotes good thinking and wisdom, but it does not promote community and relationships, and they are important to our whole health, as well.

Healthy living, both for each person and for those they encounter, is along a middle path of thinking and sharing. This is one of the reasons why when I teach I love it when the quiet ones speak. The talkers keep things going and make class interesting, but the thinkers often are the ones who can bring wisdom into a group, if they will but speak.

Solomon prayed for wisdom not just so he could be smart but so he could serve well — the inside and the outside of his life.

1 Kings 3:7-9:
“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (NRSV).

Learning the art of listening

It struck me today how fortunate I was to have been a journalist.
 
Real journalists ask questions, lots of questions, and most of their time is spent listening to the answers — getting the responses right but also thinking about the responses. Is it a real answer to the question? What new questions does the answer raise? Thought upon thought, all while listening and trying to understand.
 
Then, after all the asking and listening is done, you try to make sense of what you learned, fitting it in with what you’ve learned from others and also letting it stand on its on.
 
Usually by the time I got to a keyboard, I had shaped in my head what I thought was most important in what had been said and how I could convey it. A one-source story is simple, but it gets more complex as you layer in sources trying to get at broader truth, not just one person’s perspective on what is true.
There are good and bad journalists just as surely as their are good and bad ministers, politicians, cops, plumbers, housewives, etc.
A bad journalist doesn’t really listen. He or she is more interested in finding what he or she wants or expects to hear or even “making” a person say what the writer wants. It happens.
A good journalist listens and shapes the story to the emerging understanding of reality, wherever it might take the reporter. And a resulting story is never the last word; it is part of the word, often the first word, which one hopes will lead to more understanding.
My thoughts surfaced as I read the introduction to Denise Shekerjian’s book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born. She wrote about the process of interviewing 40 recipients of the MacArthur Prize. Here’s some of her words about the process:
“In the end, the common themes linking these creative people separated and floated to the surface like cream. . . .
“But some of what I learned was a surprise. . . .
“With these conclusions in hand, the problem then was to devise an artful structure for telling the story. . . .
“Somehow, I had to allow for the untidiness and inconsistencies of it all. And, too, there were the subtleties of reducing an interview to the written page: people should sound the way they really talk. A casual statement, isolated from the whole, shouldn’t be made to stand for an entire formal dogma.”
She reminded me of what it’s like to listen, to really listen, to listen for understanding, to listen for honest sharing. That’s what good journalists do; that’s what all of us could benefit by doing.