Holidays bring us together with family and friends, yet people report that these get-togethers have become very uncomfortable in our current divisive political climate. Friends and family members reveal that they don’t enjoy being with people who have different opinions. Longstanding friendships have broken up over politics, policies and personalities. Nobody wants to listen; we really want only to tell others why we are right, and why they are wrong. We don’t listen to converse and learn anymore; we listen to reply.
My thesis: relationships are a great deal more important than our politics. Politics last for a few years; relationships can last for a lifetime.
The Big Question: How do we get along with people we might love but with whom we just don’t agree? I submit that if we treasure our relationships, we try to become a better listener. We don’t listen just to reply. We listen to understand. We might ask why or how Uncle Joe says what he says. With genuine curiosity, we ask MaryJane how she came to her current understanding.
Good Listening is the most difficult skill to acquire. Studies show that we only grasp between 17 and 25 of what we hear. We have to want to learn a skill requiring so much effort. We might not WANT to hear what someone else is saying, yet we expect others to listen to us! Moreover, they ought to agree with us! If they don’t, then we judge their competence, intelligence, common sense. Our impulse to judge based on what they say makes listening impossible. How can we actually listen to that guy if that guy is nuts?! But is he/she nuts? Might our family and friends have good reason(s) why they believe what they believe?
My last point: Everyone has a legitimate a version of the truth; it is at least as legitimate as my version. If I know something they don’t know, perhaps the opposite is true — they know something I don’t know! If I love that friend or family member, it’s worth my effort to learn their truth.
If I surround myself with only people who think as I do, I am not learning anything. I’m stagnant. I cease to grow. I know only my own, narrow experiences, and my own thinking.
A friend I met in college has wonderful listening skills. Over the years of listening to me expound, she would ask a question that spurred me to think through to a new realization. She didn’t degrade my experience; she respected my piece of the truth. Her respect gave me the confidence to re-think. She changed my mind more than once by actually listening to me.
I think I will try practicing this holiday season on listening improvement. It may turn into a New Year’s resolution! May your family and friend gatherings be warm and rewarding this holiday season.