HERE’S an experiment to try the next time you meet someone.
As they mechanically utter their greeting of, “Hi, how are you?” instead of responding with the standard, “Good, thanks,” 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. But maybe this dismal state stems from our lost art of listening.
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 they continue to complain/ask/nudge/nag, over and over, in the hope that they will finally be listened to.
In Judaism, one of the most fundamental statements of belief is the declaration of the Shema - “Listen, O Israel, G?d is our God; God is one.” Look closely at the words. It doesn’t say to “proclaim” or “declare” God’s unity, but rather “listen.” Because listening is an intense experience involving perceiving, deeply thinking about and internalising. 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.
Rabbi Yehuda Pink MSc, Solihull & District Hebrew Congregation, www.solihullshul.org