Greenleaf writes: Most of us…would really like to…get through to a significant level of meaning. …The best test of whether we are…is to ask ourselves, first, are we really listening? Are we listening to the one we want to communicate to? Is our basic attitude, as we approach the confrontation, one of wanting to understand? Remember that great line from the prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, grant that I may not seek so much to be understood as to understand.”
One must not be afraid of a little silence. …It is often a devastating question to ask oneself – “In saying what I have in mind will I really improve on the silence?”
How many of us truly seek to ‘get through to a significant level of meaning’? One key word here appears to be ‘significant’. We all seek to make ‘meaning’ out of anothers words, attitudes, actions, emotions, choices, etc. To commit to getting to a ‘significant level’ requires that I am awake, aware and intentional and purpose-full. This commitment takes time, energy, focus and an openness to the other that might well challenge me beyond what/where I want to be challenged. It also requires a certain ‘attitude.’
Greenleaf says that one key is to seek first to ‘understand.’ What are the ingredients that must be in place for me to actually ‘seek to understand’ the other – at this time, in this place? One block to our seeking to understand is that too often we equate ‘understanding’ with ‘change.’ That is, if you truly understand me you will behave differently, you will make a different choice, you will do what I want, you will change your approach, goal, your decision, etc.
How many times do parents hear their adolescent sons and daughters say: ‘If you really understood you would….’ Or, ‘You don’t really understand!’ — meaning, that if you did you would allow them to do what they wanted to do). How often do we adults hear these same words from other adults at home, in the workplace, in our places of worship, during board meetings, etc.?
Greenleaf also ups the ante again when he says that in listening our goal is to seek to understand first – it is not to seek to be understood. I cannot begin to count the number of times I focused on attempting to get the other to understand me first. If the other did then, of course, the other would support ‘me.’ On my better days I am able to seek first to understand. I also admit that when I do so all goes more smoothly (generally).
Greenleaf concludes this little piece with ‘silence.’ How many of us fear a little silence? How many times do we sit with others and when a bit of silence emerges someone quickly fills the void with movement or noise or words. The longer folks sit in silence the more the room fills with a feeling of anxiety. Why does silence ‘breed’ and ‘nurture’ anxiety?
Finally, Greenleaf strikes again when he asks the question that continues to haunt many of us: “In saying what I have in mind will I really improve on the silence?”
As I, once again, read this question I a smiling as I am imaging Clint Eastwood, in his role as ‘Dirty Harry,’ giving me that ‘look’ and asking: ‘Well, punk, when you open your trap do you really improve on the silence?’ Similar question, different person and different attitude offering up the question.