Teach your children well
But what do you teach them?
You want to teach them everything. Give them all the tools and knowledge they will ever need. But you just can’t. There isn’t time.
And more importantly, there isn’t capacity. Children see and hear everything, but only so much sticks. Only a small percentage of what they are taught will stay with them, at least through their formative years.
Think back on your childhood. What do you remember of your first ten years? Out of those first five million minutes, how many stuck with you?
Only a handful.
So, don’t try to teach your children everything. It’s just not possible. So, what do you focus on?
If you can only teach your child one thing, teach them this.
Teach them to listen.
Truly listen. Not just hear. And not ignore. But listen.
Because if they can learn to listen, all else will follow.
What do I mean by that? Well, before I get to that, think of the adults you spend the most time with. Friends, relatives, co-workers. How many of them know how to listen? How many people do you know say something like, “I’m horrible with names. I can never remember them.” It’s because they weren’t listening. How many people you know listen?
My guess would be not many. They look, but they don’t hear. Or they hear, but they don’t pay attention. Their eyes can see your lips moving, but their mind is somewhere else.
They never learned to listen. And because of that, they missed out on so much more. They missed out on all of the things that just listening could have taught them.
A simple word with a complex meaning. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Not many people have this skill. It is both rare and potent. Empathy is crucial for learning compassion and establishing relationships, but so few have mastered it. Or want to.
Because they never learned how to listen.
Many people believe they are empathetic. But the reality is, they only show empathy for those that are like them. As children, they aren’t compassionate to those outside their circle of friends and family. And as they grow older, they don’t feel empathy for people outside their family, community, ethnicity, or race. But that’s not genuine empathy. And it all stems from the inability to truly listen.
Understanding has two meanings. On a deep level, it is part of empathy. You can’t show compassion for someone if you don’t understand them.
And you will never understand them if you don’t listen.
But there is also the simpler meaning. Comprehension. Did you understand what they said? No, me either. And it wasn’t because they were speaking with a foreign accent or speaking about something archaic or complicated. It’s because you weren’t listening. To every word. You were thinking about what you need to get at the store later, or you were thinking about what you want to say as soon as they stop talking.
But, what were they talking about? I don’t know. I didn’t understand them.
Because I wasn’t listening.
Patience? How does patience come from listening? Because listening requires patience. And if you practice the art of patience enough by listening, you will develop it as a trait.
As I said above, one of the most common attributes of those who don’t listen is that they are thinking about what they are going to do or say as soon as the other person stops talking. They have no patience. They were on their way to someplace when they encountered a friend. Or they want to impress everyone with their next witty statement as soon as the other person stops saying whatever it is they are saying.
But listening requires patience. The patience to do nothing at all except focus on the person who is speaking. Absorbing every word and sentence. Listening to what they have to say. Understanding what they are saying and becoming empathetic to their point of view.
I saved the best for last. You may disagree with that, and I can understand your point of view. I am empathetic to what you are saying. The points above are very important. But, I think learning is the most important of all. Are you still listening?
At the top, I said that the problem we face as parents is there isn’t enough time to teach your children everything they need to know.
But the reality is, we don’t have to. We only need to teach them how to learn and think for themselves. And one of the easiest ways to learn is by listening. Listening to everything that is said to them.
How old are you? I’m 65. Imagine if I had listened to everything that was said to me for my entire 65 years. Really listened. How smart would I be now? Even if I never read a book or studied for a class but just listened.
Wow. The missed opportunities.
There was a large gap between my finishing high school and attending college. I don’t think this was a bad thing. I was able to learn what I needed to learn. And so, when I started college, I wasn’t in the thirteenth grade of high school. I was there to acquire knowledge. And to do that, I knew I had to listen.
So, here is how I approached every class. From the first day through the first test, I did nothing but listen. I didn’t read. I didn’t study. I didn’t do any assignment that wasn’t being graded. I just listened. Then, depending on my grade for that first test, I planned to adjust what I was doing.
Guess what? I never had to. I never once sat up late, pouring over a textbook trying to learn or study for a test. I just listened. And this got and kept a 4.0 average. Because I listened.
Teach your children well. Teach them just one thing. Teach them how to listen.