He who answers before listening—
that is his folly and his shame.
Proverbs 18:13 (NIV)
Rumor has it that we spend 60% of our time listening and 40% of our time talking when we are in communication with others. Whoever made those claims should have said, instead, that we spend 60% of our time pretending to listen! It’s not an easy thing, that’s for sure. It takes a little humility to listen. If you are right all the time, you don’t need to listen. That makes it easy. For you. Of course, no one will want anything to do with you, but because you are right, you’ll never know that you are coming across as a fool. You won’t even care that they think that because you are right! This is the advantage of being a complete moron. It nice that there is at least something about you that is redeemable.
I’m not sure what this compulsion to be right is all about. If we could pile all the marriages on top of one another of those that crashed and burned because one or both partner refused to listen, the pile would reach the moon. It would stink, too. When I asked clients who come to see me after a divorce what led to their first marriage breakdown, not one has ever said, “Because I refused to listen.” Are we so unaware?
Unfortunately, it’s not only spouses we don’t listen to. It’s also our children. Have you ever truly listened to them? No wonder all these kids are running around with their heads cut off. I gotta get attention some way. Sitting quietly doesn’t do it. Look at this! I’ve figured out if I act like a crazy person I get all kinds of attention! Great. Now you can both yell at each other that you never listen.
I try not to brag too much, but this one time I did something right. It’s scary, looking back, how close I was to disaster. My daughter, Emilie, was about 16 or 17 and was just driving out on her own with friends on weekend nights. We had an understanding on what time she would be home, but we didn’t call it a curfew and there wasn’t a club over the head expected if she was late. We didn’t need to do that with her. She was very responsible and whatever she said she would do she would do. We didn’t worry about her. We didn’t have to.
So this one time, when the time came for her to be home and she wasn’t home, I was a bit concerned. This wasn’t like her. This was also before the cell phone craze and she hadn’t called either. The later it got, the more I panicked. I started assuming the worst and fearing the worst. I’d try to calm myself down. Relax, Bing. There must be a reason. You can trust her. She’ll be OK. She’ll make good choices. But the other side of me was in freak out mode. What was she doing? Why isn’t she home? Who does she think she is? I’ll have to take her keys away. Ground her for life! I can’t believe you’d do this to me. Whatever happened to the Emilie I knew?
These conflicting thoughts were rattling around in my brain and I didn’t know which way to go. And then I settled down. Actually, a verse in the Bible came to mind:
Be quick to hear and slow to speak, for the anger of man does not fulfill the righteousness of God.∗
That settled me down a bit. OK, Bing. Relax. When she comes home, just ask how she’s doing. Find out what’s going on first. Don’t go off half-cocked here and make assumptions. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Take it easy. It wasn’t easy to take it easy.
Finally, she came home. I don’t know how I did it, because inwardly I was scared and mad at the same time. It would have been so easy to lay into her about the family rules and respect and responsibility and trust and taking advantage and privilege and it’s really my car and who does she think she is. Somehow I muttered, “Emilie, is everything alright?”
She said, near tears, “Oh, one of my friends was saying she was going to commit suicide and we didn’t know what to do so we were listening to her and trying to help her.”
And then we talked for 45 minutes about her friend. Actually, I didn’t say much. I just listened. She told me what her friend had freaked out about and what she and her other friend had said to her and what they had done in this panicky situation and how it had all worked out and she was still scared a bit, but I was totally proud of her and she had done the right thing and in the end her friend had calmed down and wasn’t going to commit suicide after all. Someone had listened to her!
I never mentioned the curfew. It wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I shudder at the thought of me not listening before answering in a panicky situation and what would have happened had I gotten all mad at Emilie and refused to hear her story and grounded her and took her keys away and lectured her about responsibility and family rules and privilege and trust and how could you and go to your room, how easily I could have planted seeds of rebellion in her heart. I was very grateful to God, that at least this one time, I hadn’t acted the fool.
Why had her friend considered suicide? Her mom and dad were fighting and talking divorce and yelling at each other and weren’t listening to each other at all. Hmmm.