Monday, October 27, 2008

Listening as Service

I’ve just finished writing about two very involved service projects on this blog--The Apple Pie Project and the Kenyan Orphan Project. Today I’m going to talk about a very small-scale service project, one that takes little planning and can be done almost anywhere and for anyone.

It’s called Listening.

I just did a bit of quick research on-line about listening, and found some really good pointers, but I also take exception to a statement in a couple of the articles I read: Listening is easy. I don’t think it’s easy at all. I think, for anyone still trying to master the Natural Man within, it’s hard, because the Natural Man would rather talk than listen.

That’s why listening is so important. With all of us talking, who will listen? If we realize that this is an act of service, maybe you and I will.

The articles I read were all about listening to children, but everything they said can be extrapolated to adults, too. We never outgrow the need to be heard.

It all boils down to two simple rules:

Listening Rule Number One is Stop what you’re doing. It sends the unspoken message, “You are more important than folding clothes, reading my email, watching this TV program, exercising, or (fill in the blank).”

Listening Rule Number Two is Be patient. Not everyone is a great narrator.

This is where it gets hard for me. I can stop what I’m doing for a short while, but I’m a very production-oriented person. If you compound my idle hands with a bungled tale, well, it really is a struggle for me to stay attentive and concerned.

But this isn’t about me, right? I’m being of service to my fellow man, here. Eye contact, Liz. Nod. Follow the thread. Modulate your voice when you ask questions so it doesn’t sound impatient. Send positive signals by way of ‘Uh-huh’, ‘I see’ and ‘Hmmm’. DON’T finish any sentences to move the story along.

As a young mother, I heard over and over that the most important thing you can do for your child is to listen to him. As child #4 was embarking on the Riddle Stage—you know, the place where he wants to tell riddles but hasn’t grasped the concept, so he comes up with some very lame questions and totally irrelevant answers and thinks they’re riddles—I used to think, The person who wrote that has never gone through the Riddle Stage. Or the Knock-knock stage. Or the, “What if?” stage. That’s when listening gets really, really tough. But hang in there. You'll learn some great jokes, and when there's something really important to be told, your child will know you're approachable.

They say you love whom you serve, and I think that applies here. As you’re a visiting teacher and you listen to one of your sisters ramble about her family, you grow to know about her—who she is and what she’s lived through. You may never meet the people she talks about, but you’re serving her by listening, and soon you care about her and the family you've never met.

And what about listening to a clunker of a talk in Sacrament Meeting? Maybe the speaker wasn’t a silver-tongued orator. Maybe, in fact, he had never given a talk in his life before this halting try. By listening to him attentively, you are serving him. How else can he progress, if not by practice? How else can he have heart to try, if his brothers and sisters don’t listen and respond?

King Benjamin tells us that when we serve our fellow man, we are serving God. Listening is a simple act of service we can practice every day of our lives.

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1 comment:

Monique said...

Liz I love this. It is so important to learn and remember. Most importantly during Visiting Teaching. I think a lot of people are struggling so hard to be heard that they forget to listen. Boy if we could only get our husbands in on this one....