Listening Is a First Step to Understanding

A conversation — not a debate.
Listening — not demanding to be heard.
Giving to others what you hope they’d give to you.
Human beings, at times, have a hard time listening.
If you feel strongly about gun control, it’s hard to really listen to someone who feels just as strongly about their freedom to own guns without too much control.
If you feel strongly about Donald Trump’s version of how to make America great again, you have a hard time listening to someone who feels just as strongly about Hillary Clinton’s version of how to make America whole again.
When we feel strongly about anything, we have a hard time listening to others who disagree just as strongly.
And therein lies the problem — or the solution. Am I, are you, willing to listen and understand the person (not just the problem) with whom we disagree? Am I, are you, willing to show the respect and patience to others that we desire for ourselves?
After 25 years of working with people in ministry, I’ve learned that many marriage difficulties, parenting challenges, church conflicts, neighborhood squabbles and employee disputes could be solved, or even avoided, if the people involved took the time to listen and understand the other person and were willing to work together on the solution.
It all begins with listening and understanding.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is when he took a walk through the land of Samaria and had a direct conversation with a Samaritan woman with a tattered past. In Jesus’ day, the Jews and Samaritans (though distant cousins) did not get along. As a male, Jewish teacher, it was inconceivable that Jesus would talk to a Samaritan woman. But he did — and he didn’t just talk, he asked questions and he listened.
And she asked questions and listened as well. They had a conversation. And what could have been another gross encounter between cultures, instead resulted in a friendship and the possibility of a changed life.
One more thing. Listening is a process not a moment. Very few, (really I don’t think anyone can, but I’m trying to be nice) can listen one day and fully understand another human being. It’s a process.
We listen. We act. We listen again. We ask questions. We then listen some more. And eventually we find ourselves no longer just solving the problem but loving the person.
Very few of us will be able to solve the major conflicts confronting our communities, our country, our world, but we can contend with the differences of opinion that exist in our families, our neighborhoods, our places of worship and in our workplace.
A good first step is to create a conversation, not a debate. Listen first without demanding to be heard.

Published first in Ventura County Star on June 17, 2016 before last year’s election. The insights are timeless. Tom Stephen is one of the founding sponsors of serves as pastor at Monte Vista Presbyterian Church a community committed to developing a lifestyle of prayerfulness, compassion and humility. He can be reached him at [email protected].