Listening for a Change

Do you remember the day you joined Facebook? I’d heard about the social platform for a while from colleagues who had received access to it while in college and I had been reading stories about Mark Zuckerberg. I was curious to see what it was, how it worked and how it might change my interactions. It was simple and straightforward and I spent several sessions simply looking for people I knew to connect with. The joy was in finding people I knew, connecting with them and sharing what I was up to while reading about their lives too.

I looked through my Facebook feed today. While saddened by the devastation in Houston and the Texas Coast I appreciate seeing the posts from friends and colleagues impacted by the storm. I feel closer to them as a result of the social mediums we have today. I can ask them if they need help, I can share a post of someone in need and I can learn from others which non-profits need the most help now so I can pitch in.

I also see a number of posts simply echoing an ideology. The current political climate provides endless opportunities to share whatever our deeply held beliefs are with a myriad of support (whether it be well researched or not is up for debate). Facebook and Twitter provide us the megaphones necessary to show how our beliefs are right and others are wrong. We post something that supports our point of view and move on to the posts from our friends and facebook acquaintances where we can argue with their point of view.

When in this ongoing exercise do we listen? How often during our day do we relax enough to really listen to others? I would offer that we are good at listening to respond but our ability to listen to understand has atrophied. When we don’t flex that listening muscle for a period of time it weakens like any muscle. Listening to learn turns to listening to respond which turns to noise that’s in the way of our own talk track.

Sometimes I think I’m a good listener. Other times I know I’ve let my own emotions, agenda or plans get in the way of being present with those I’m with. Facebook and Twitter are easy ways to listen simply to respond. What’s harder is putting my own thoughts aside long enough to truly understand another’s point of view. It takes courage, knowing that to understand someone I might be changed or broadened in some way.

What is more frightening to me is the hardening that happens inside the echo chambers. When we fail to stretch our bodies we stiffen, become brittle and are prone to injury. When surrounding ourselves only with the thoughts we agree with we stiffen our hearts. Reaching out to listen stretches our comfort zone and stretches others to share knowing they’re being heard.

Free speech carries with it some freedom to listen.
 — Bob Marley

Three of my best friends and I chat daily via text. Sometimes the conversations are simple updates. Others are to ask for support due to family or working stressors. My favorite conversations lately are those in which I am being stretched to listen and think about things through new sets of eyes. There is disagreement but there is respect. They are broadening my own thoughts on a variety of topics. While my own convictions may not change I understand them more deeply and it deepens our relationships. Thank you gentlemen for your words and thoughts. I am better for the listening.

I think we can all be better for the listening.