Friday, September 18, 2009

Listening and self-education

Self-educators actively and consciously listen to others with the aim of learning as much from them as possible. They respect the other who is speaking not only as a person, but as a potential teacher, and they ask themselves what they can learn from the other’s words or speech.

This seems like a commonplace idea – you’ve heard it before. But in fact it is a radical idea, as there are few people in our world with the gift of being very good listeners. Such people are sought out by others and gain their confidence and trust; they learn more about the complexities of others’ experiences and feelings because not only do they hear, absorb, and remember more of what they are told, but they also receive more information because others divulge more to them. Many of the best listeners are drawn toward the helping professions: they become pastors or rabbis, therapists, counselors, teachers, or social workers. And their ability to listen is a core source of their success and power.

Most of us do not have the gift of being very good listeners. But we can work to improve our ability to listen, and our patience with listening. We can recognize that as valuable as our own insights might be, we are not the only ones with something valuable to say. And rather than lose our patience with someone who expresses an uninformed opinion about something, we can listen to them and try to get to the bottom of what they believe, why they believe it, and what their worldview really is and where it comes from.