Pandora asks us this question all the time. Enough songs are played without any response, and the website wonders, “Are you still listening? Are you there? Are you appreciating the music? Are you taking this all in?”
I’ve had that question stuck in my head over the past few weeks. It’s an important one to ask ourselves in a society that demands to be listened to, demands to be heard. It’s an important question to ask when we make new friends or deal with co-workers. Listening, it turns out, is one of the least selfish things we can do every day. Here are my observations of brokenness in school when it comes to “being heard”:
1. Some students walk through the hallways for the entire lunch, because it’s harder to tell you’re alone when it looks like you’re going somewhere.
2. Some students randomly show me the art they’ve been working on, because they haven’t been heard in so long that they’re using drawings to break through, to be seen, noticed.
3. Some students talk to me about Madden or Dragonball Z, because their parents only ever ask them about grades and “important stuff”.
4. Some students have figured out that the only way an adult will listen is if they get into trouble. So they rebel. They flip desks or make inappropriate jokes or fling cuss words like rocks that are too big for them. But at least someone’s paying attention to them.
5. Some students were told, as in Anis Mojgani’s poem, “Speak only when you’re spoken to, but then they’re never spoken to.” And so they’re just waiting, waiting, waiting. Eventually, a search party will be needed to find the voices that have been missing for too long.
So… it’s one thing to point out a problem, but how do we fix this? How do we dynamically change who we are? I’m the worst at this… as a teacher, I have so much to do. I’m supposed to be typing emails or calling parents or grading essays during the time that Jimmy wants to talk about his favorite movie or Susie wants to ask a question about her writing. So how do we make time? More importantly, how do we actually listen to the people around us?
1. Be present. If someone’s talking to you, listen. If you find yourself wanting to share your story or thought or idea so much that it’s drowning out what they’re saying, so much so that you’re mentally hurrying them to finish their point… check yourself.
2. Ask questions. There are people that are quite good at this. It is one thing to say, “How are you?” as you pass by in the hallway. It is another thing to plant your feet and ask if the person is doing well, or to ask what they’ve been doing lately. When you plant your feet, when you ask questions but also make it clear that you’re day won’t continue on until you get a few answers, people like that.
3. Appreciate the music. We listen to Pandora because we love music. A good tune, a good song, good lyrics, whatever. Do you know why God made all these people? Do you know how precious they are? Do you know how each creation is a beautiful song? In Psalm 98:8 it says, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” People are far more precious to God than music is to us. Start appreciating the music of other people. Conversations aren’t a burden, they’re an offering, a joy.
4. Remember. Are you taking it all in? We notice when people listen to us, and we especially notice when people don’t. Even the most humble of people feel a sting when they have to remind you again of their name, or their occupation, or their passions. It is not easy to share ourselves, it’s even more difficult when we get burned in the process.
5. Are you still listening? Do you still find yourself listening to others? Or has your world shifted back into yourself. I catch myself a lot of the time. I’ll have whole weeks where I care far more about what I have going on than anyone else. On those days or weeks or months, I find myself slogging back through the mud to get out of the trap I’ve set up. If you find yourself in the same spot, go back. A self-oriented life is like quicksand.
6. I’d do an injustice to “listening” if I didn’t suggest listening to God. This is a hard one. We so often go to God with requests or complaints. It’s hard to orient ourselves into a position of listening. The best ways I’ve found to do this (all of which I struggle to do consistently)… stop your day. Take time to be still. Find quieter places, rooms. Read the Bible (some parts may seem louder than others, but God’s whispers and shouts are both worthy of being heard). Listen to sermons. Remember that He wants to draw near to you.
The next time Pandora asks you, or a friend, or a co-worker, or a student, or a child, or a brother, or a mother, or God…
Are you still listening?