Everyone has a story.
On an average day, an average person will speak an average of 13,500 words.*
Want to know how many words that person listens to on any given day?
I don’t know, but I would be willing to bet my left arm that it’s a far smaller number. I’m left handed, so you know I’m serious.
We talk. We all talk. Does anybody listen? There are too many voices, and not enough ears.
A couple weeks ago, while in the middle of a bartending shift at Portland International Airport, a woman snapped rudely at me several times. I feigned a smile in return and brought her a drink, but attempted to avoid her for the next several minutes until I glanced over and noticed that tears were streaming down her face.
I walked back over to her and asked what was wrong.
Turns out, she had just lost both her parents tragically in the space of a week in unrelated incidents. She was flying back to Portland to make funeral arrangements. In less than seven days, her life had been turned upside down, and she was an orphan.
Everyone has a story. On the surface, we are quick to make assumptions and draw conclusions about why people act the way they do. In reality, we have little to no idea what is truly going on in their lives.
Unless we ask. And listen.
Don’t get me wrong: circumstances don’t excuse rude behavior. However, they do go a long way towards explaining it.
Just before she left my bar, the woman looked me in the eye and apologized for initially being rude. She told me that she’d been on three flights and sat in four airports that day, and that I was the first person who actually cared enough to ask her what was wrong.
Everyone has a story.
I don’t relate this encounter to paint a rosy picture of myself. To be fair, I can’t even paint. I’ve missed countless opportunities to listen and care throughout my life. I get wrapped up in my own struggles, my own troubles. How easily I forget that Copernicus was right: the world doesn’t revolve around me.
However, as I’ve been going through struggles of my own this past month, I can honestly say that I am at my happiest when I am listening to someone else instead of wallowing in a pigsty of self-pity.
If I don’t have love, I am nothing.
The apostle James, a guy who spent some time with the only perfect listener this world has ever known, puts it like this: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
Be an ear, not a voice.
So, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between, here’s a challenge: spend the rest of today listening. If you’re on the West Coast, less than 10 hours of July 15 remain, so it’s not that overwhelming of a task. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Direct the conversation away from yourself.
I’ll be joining you in this.
Listen up, and see what happens.
*According to numerous studies, women say an average of 20,000 words daily, while men speak 7,000. This discrepancy could be the topic of an entirely different blog post, but I digress.