The importance of listening

Today I uncovered a flaw in the way I engage with myself and other people. I assume, in some situations, that my view on a subject is more valuable than that of someone else. But that’s not a useful assumption. Instead, it’s a barrier to meaningful conversation.

I noticed this following a conversation I had with a friend over lunch. We were talking about God, religion in general, and Christianity more specifically.

The broad subject of religion is one I’ve thought about quite a lot (or at least it seems like a lot to me). I’ve come to various conclusions, some of which have changed or been proven wrong over time.

But what I didn’t really see until today is that I’ve taken on a certain arrogance in religious conversations. I’ve assumed that my having thought about the subject (a lot, according to myself) makes me entitled to dominate a conversation with my opinions.

And that’s the basis on which I had my lunch-time conversation today. The conversation didn’t go well. We didn’t manage to communicate our respective experience and beliefs well and I didn’t get the impression that either of us learned anything from the other.

In looking back at the conversation, I can see that my friend attempted to engage with what I was saying. She listened to what I said and replied constructively. In response, however, I dismissed a lot of what she said out of hand, because some of it fell into the category of “things I’ve thought about before”.

The fact that I’ve thought about something before doesn’t mean I know everything about it, or anything for that matter. My opinion doesn’t deserve to be heard simply by virtue of its existence. Someone else’s opinion isn’t worthless simply because I have my own opinion on the same subject.

I had an opportunity to learn from someone else; to be exposed to her unique experience and the understanding she’s gained from it. And I didn’t listen. I didn’t give her views the time of day. As a result, I prevented meaningful communication. I missed out on an opportunity to grow in understanding of myself and to deepen a friendship.

I’ve learned from this experience that I need to listen more attentively for the sake of taking in what is said to me, rather than simply waiting for my turn to speak again.