Of the over 31,000 verses in the Bible, I could not find one that encouraged me to express my opinion. In fact, I found over one hundred which expressed the opposite, like Proverbs 18:2, which says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
Of course, some of us have couched and justified our opinions through the Bible’s command to “speak the truth,” but we have, unfortunately, exchanged the intended God’s truth with our own take on worldly truth.
I think the rhetoric has lessened as most people have come to realize that others are firmly entrenched in their own camps, but that doesn’t solve the one basic problem—we still aren’t listening to each other.
As an English teacher, I was to teach the four language arts––reading, writing, speaking, and … wait for it … yup, listening. And you can guess which of those four got the short stick. Oh, there were plenty of times I would tell my students to listen, but the actual instruction time on how to listen was short. Even now, as I review the five levels of listening, I can honestly say that this past year and a half has seen me at all levels except the optimal. You might be the same. So hear we go.
Level 1: Ignoring: Yup. We just refuse to listen. It is the ultimate “I don’t care,” because in this phase you aren’t even looking at the person when they are speaking. You are looking at your phone, the television, anything but the speaker.
Level 2: Pretending: Ditto the above. But this one is a bit patronizing. We give the appearance of listening, but we’re not. We may throw in an occasional “Um-hum” or “Really,” but should the speaker ask us a question, well, we’re found out.
Level 3: Selective: As the name suggests, at this level we are only listening to parts of the conversation, and usually with the intent to do one of the following: insert ourselves or our experiences; judge, refute or criticize. We are definitely not listening to understand.
Level 4: Attentive: Now this level sounds great, and it is. This is the level we aspire to for most of our interactions because it involves eye contact, attentiveness, the desire to understand. Its only drawback is that we are listening within our own context of experiences and often respond that way. However, this level is not a bad place to land.
Level 5: Empathic: Is the highest level of listening and involves the greatest amount of both emotional and mental energy as it requires us to use all our attentiveness, our heart, and our mind as we seek to see things from the speaker’s frame of reference. Please note, that empathic listening doesn’t mandate agreement, and it certainly doesn’t require comment. It just requires listening with the intent of understanding the other individual, not to judge and not to change.
If you are like me, I would imagine that you are all over the map regarding your level of listening, most likely depending on the other person involved. But Jesus was all about interaction and, even more so, understanding. I think it would do us all good to start working our way up the listening ladder.