We have two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we speak, the saying goes. In this picture, taken at a natural history museum, the reproduced-to-proportion scale model of bat’s ears if they had heads the size of humans, gives us another visual image of the sage advice that listening more than we speak is an important bit of advice.
What does real listening look like? It doesn’t look like being so busy thinking about what you are going to say next that you fail to really hear what the other person is saying. It doesn’t look like raising your voice and talking at the same time as someone else as if that will somehow make yourself be heard. When you get right down to it, real listening also doesn’t look like having to be the person who is “right.”
Have you ever tried a reflexive exercise? In one of these, you sit knee-to-knee with the person with whom you would like to improve your communication skills. Each person gets a set amount of time to speak on a topic without being interrupted by the listener. When the speaker is finished, the listener reflects back what he has just heard the speaker say, without injecting judgments. The speaker verifies if what the listener reflected back is what the speaker said. Then, it becomes the listener’s turn to become the speaker.
Because most of us are not very good at listening, we are also not very good at speaking. We may think that we are saying one thing, but what people hear is something entirely different. Like a domino effect, a conversation that begins innocently enough may snowball into hurt feelings and things left best unsaid, all because we use our mouths much more than we use our ears.
The Bible is replete with admonitions to mind our voices. We will be held accountable for every word we utter, Paul tells us. I’m not looking forward to that “this was your life” flashback. Jesus admonished us to realize that not only what we say, but even what we think affects our ability to accomplish the ultimate goal of love that is the cornerstone of His kingdom.
What we say matters, and being able to listen with loving intent makes it much easier for us to watch what we say. Our words have more power than we often give them credit for. Wouldn’t you rather have your words build others up than strip them down? Yet, how can you know the God-centered words that someone needs to hear if you haven’t attended to what they say with at least twice as much effort from your ears than you used speaking with your single mouth?