Are You Listening?

woman listening to gossipRecently, I preached a sermon on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, a passage that has come to be known as “The Shema” by Jewish people (there are additional verses that add to these to make up the total Shema).  The word “shema” is Hebrew for “hear” or “listen.”  Listening is not something that I always do well.  But I’m not alone.

It seems that most of us, when we listen, are distracted or forgetful 75% of the time we should have been listening.  Human beings listen at a rate of about 125-130 words per minute and think at about 1000-3000 words per minute.  After “listening” to someone, we only recall about 50% of what they said to us.  We, as a society and human beings in general, are distracted.  We are bombarded with information.

Depending on the sport, I am a big fan.  It’s mostly baseball, but if a New England team is playing on a TV close by, my eyes will wander to check in on scores.  It can be detrimental for dates with my wife if there are TV’s close by, especially during the World Series when the Red Sox are playing.  She’s important to me, but that could easily be questioned with my distractions with sports TV.  That’s not a good thing.  I shouldn’t be so distracted.

So, how much do we listen?  How much do we pay attention?  When we’re “listening” to someone else, are we really thinking about other things?  Are we catching even 50% of what the person speaking is telling us?

Over time, I’m not sure if I have gotten better at this or not.  I was in a one on one meeting with someone recently and I took notes so that I was sure to capture everything that was said.  It was too important for me to miss anything.  If that’s what needs to happen, it might seem strange at first, but I would be surprised if someone objected to note-taking if they know that it results in them being heard more effectively and efficiently.

How do we eliminate distractions?  One at a time.  It’s better for me to be seated away from TV’s in a restaurant if I want to give my wife the 100% attention that she deserves.  If that’s what I need to do, she is more than worth the sacrifice.  In order to eliminate distractions, we need to be aware of what they are, identify them.  If we don’t know what they are, how are we supposed to eliminate them.

I know how frustrating it is when I speak with someone and I feel that they are distracted or disengaged.  I just need to remember that feeling when someone else is talking with me.  I can’t be distracted from listening to others and think that they will actually pay attention to me when it’s their turn to listen.

Information is coming at us in waves all through our days, I don’t think it’s ever going to slow down.  But, we have the opportunity to slow it down ourselves.  We can eliminate distractions and honor the voices that are most important to us.  This is a lesson that I am learning one day at a time, one step at a time.

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