My grandfather used to say that "God granted us two ears and one mouth, so we need to listen twice as much as we talk." Through his interactions with others, he showed that listening can be an act of selfless love because it shows that you want to understand those around you, that you genuinely care.
"People are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties," Pope Francis said in the book, "The Name of God is Mercy."
Think about those few friends, mentors or family members who made a difference in your life. Chances are that they were good listeners. You could tell they gave you their full attention and tried to understand you. Do you do the same for others?
Pope Francis has often encouraged us to practice the "apostolate of the ear," to attentively listen to what others have to say.
Often, listening helps both parties to feel more connected to each other. It is the key to authentic friendships.
Yet, sometimes we do much of the talking instead of listening, we interrupt or we listen to respond instead of focusing our energies on the other person to understand what he or she is sharing.
Genuine listening requires humility. Listening can also provide a safe haven for those who are often not heard. By sharing their feelings or realities -- without being judged or persuaded -- they can feel validated in their worth.
At times, we are distracted by our own worries or by our electronic devices, or are half-listening or half-thinking about our response. Other times, especially when arguing with people with different opinions, we can be defensive or quick to judge and contradict people.
"Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness," Pope Francis said in his 2016 World Communication Day message. "Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says."
Yes, learning to listen takes practice, patience and energy, but the fruits are many. When people are listened to, they feel understood, they feel accepted and cared about; it helps them to trust others and release tension in a safe way. Listening deeply can also help the listener since it fosters mutual trust, prevents misunderstandings and can uplift others.
How can you be a better listener? Let the person talk, ask for clarification to ensure you understand what the person is saying and ask open-ended questions.
An article on Scientific American suggests that if you think you know what the person thinks, you will "accept only information that agrees with your preconceived notions." But, the article continues, by suspending judgment and cultivating a genuine interest in the person's thoughts, feelings and opinions, you can understand where they are coming from.
Actively listening to their entire message, you might find that even when disagreeing, you have similar experiences, goals or intentions. That's the first step toward building bridges of understanding.
As the pope said, "Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift that we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice."
Practice listening to your friends and peers, listening to your siblings, listening to your parents and grandparents, or listening to that person who may not have been heard in a while. Take the time to open your ears to them.