Here's an experiment to try the next time you meet someone—it could be an annoying telemarketer over the phone or a neighbor in the local grocery store.
As he mechanically and politely utters his greeting of, "Hi, how are you?" instead of responding with the standard, "good, thanks," try something different. Answer something totally strange and unbelievable. Try this, "Great, my monkey just ate its banana," or "Good, the skies are covered with gold." The only caveat is that your tone, body language and facial expression must reflect nothing out of the ordinary.
I'm curious how many people would actually notice! Would they continue their mindless dialogue, "Oh, that's nice," or would they just nod perfunctorily as they continue on their hurried way? How many would actually hear you?
Many educators nowadays lament the lost art of communication. Some claim that with the popularity of Instant Messaging, chat and e-mails, our children are losing out on the richness of expression, the nuances and variations of vocabulary and the beauty of creative writing.
But maybe our dismal state of communication stems from our lost art of listening, without which real communication can never occur.
In your mind's eye, think of someone whom you consider an exemplar teacher, mentor, advisor, or even just a really good friend. Chances are that along with his or her other admirable qualities—like wisdom, kindness, charisma and a generous spirit—high on the list will be the ability to truly listen.
Real listening means the ability to focus entirely on others and on their issues, with an open mind and heart.
It doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with them. But it does mean the ability to hear things from their vantage point, and to understand how they see life.
Only someone who is able to appreciate where another is coming from can help him to move from where he is to a more enriched perspective.
Yet how often do we neglect to listen? How often do we respond to our children, our spouses or those important to us with auto-responses, without ever really hearing them? Sensing that they haven't been heard, it's no wonder that our children or spouse will continue to complain/request/nudge/nag, over and over, in the hope that they will finally be listened to. The nudging eventually does stop, but only once they have given up on ever being heard, as the lines of communication close and die.
In Judaism, one of the most fundamental statements of belief is the declaration of the Shema—"Listen, O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d; G‑d is one."
Look closely at the words. It doesn't say to "proclaim" or "declare" G‑d's unity, but rather "listen."
Because listening is an intense experience involving perceiving, deeply thinking about and internalizing. It's also a transformative act, one that forges a strong bond between the speaker and listener.
The next time someone whom you consider important to your life speaks to you, treat him with the respect that he deserves.
Stop, focus and really listen. You might just be surprised at the whole new awareness that opens before you.
And if you do try this experiment with a telemarketer or a neighbor, I'd be curious to hear your results…