Listening is just step two…

Pastor Freed used this quote from Alan Alda today – “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.”  (Alan Alda) 

Hearing is probably step one, but it does not carry with it the acknowledgement that you have recognized anything other than that some sounds are being made. When one moves from hearing to listening, the change is both a recognition of the speaker and a focus upon understanding what is being said. Just saying ,”I hear you”, does not mean that you are really listening to what the other person is saying. The listening that Alda was probably referring to goes well beyond just politely waiting for your turn to speak. Too many people spend that polite time focused more upon what they want to say next, rather than really listening to what the speaker is saying and evaluating their position or arguments.

Alda used the words “being able to be changed” in his quote. I would prefer “being open to be changed”. It is important to keep an open mind, to be willing to re-evaluate your position and current opinions on something, based upon new information. Many times such an encounter will not require a major change in your position, but taking the opportunity to listen to different points of view and opinions will give you a better understanding of those who hold different points of view. That will perhaps allow you to better prepare yourself for those encounters.

Assuming that you have moved through steps one and two, you now are faced with step three – evaluating what to do with, or about, this new information. In some cases, the information may be so ridiculous that your reaction may have to be to stifle a laugh; however, remember that this new point of view was just put forward by someone who may deeply believe what they just said. Excusing yourself and beating a hasty retreat may be the best course of action in that case.

Let’s assume that what you just listened to is, in fact , a valid alternative point of view to your own, based either upon different information than you had on which to base your position or a different interpretation of the same information. That’s when you must be open to change. You must be willing to look at the situation from that other person’s point of view and make a decision on whether to stand firm in your belief or change towards the other person’s belief. That forces you to examine what it was that caused you to form your opinion. Was it really based upon facts or did preconceived notions and prejudices creep into your decisions and opinions?

We hear often about systemic racism these days in the news, That refers to policies and behaviors within government and business entities that are based upon and driven by prejudice. In fact, those prejudices all start within the individuals that make up that entity. Systemic problems are codified within the entities but they start within us all. Being open to change forces us to face our internal systemic issues like racism, sexism, homophobia and others.

Once you have listened with an open mind, and faced down the systemic issues within yourself, you must decide how and where to add this new knowledge into what is called your wisdom. If you decide that you do need to change, some old thoughts and opinions will have to be swept away. Some fears will need to be buried. Some actions and activities may have to be abandoned. You will have a new point of view and the world will look different to you. That’s a good thing, You have grown by being open to change.  I think you will like the new view that you see because you will be more consciously aware of and more comfortable with your vantage point.

You listened, you learned and you changed. Good for you! Good for us all.

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