Next time you are arguing about politics (or anything else…) pay attention to what is going on in your mind when the other guy is speaking. Most people spend that time putting together their next argument and mentally rehearsing it, while only halfheartedly listening to what is being said to them. They may hear a word here and there, enough to get the gist of what they assume the other person is saying. And when they get a chance to reply, the same thing happens in reverse. Which is why arguments are rarely constructive. Nobody is listening.
James, the brother of Jesus wrote this good advice:
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,…” – (James 1:19 (NIV84))
Real listening is more than registering noises in one’s ears. Listening means attempting to truly understand the emotions and meanings being conveyed. Real listening has not happened until you can restate what you heard, in your own words, to the other person’s satisfaction. That last part is the key. The idea is for them to look startled and relieved, with the realization that you really understood it, your really got it. If you work for that to happen, before you state your position, then you will have a better chance of being understood, too. But as long as two people simply lob angry slogans at one another, without listening, not much is accomplished.
It seems to me that much of the hostility and divisiveness we experience in our culture could be reduced or even eliminated by the simple act of listening. Real listening. Give it a try and see if James wasn’t right. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. And slow to get angry, too…
“…for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” – (James 1:20 (NIV84)