A couple months ago, I sat in the chapel during the administration of the sacrament. As is my usual, I was focused on what I was trying to repent of and change during the recent and upcoming weeks. It’s my way of bringing something to sacrifice as I remember the ultimate sacrifice of the Savior. Sometimes I know exactly what I am working on and actively repenting of. Other weeks, I come seeking revelation for what God sees I need to work on.
This particular experience, I had been working on trying to become a better, more sincere listener. I had noticed that when I am with friends, family, or meeting new people, I often crowd the conversation, talking and sharing my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I can listen just fine when the other person wants to talk or needs to talk, but when they’d rather listen than talk, I can carry the conversation just fine, too, especially when it is full of myself. I’m not so good at helping the other person open up or feel my genuine interest in them. It’s a weakness I have struggled to overcome.
My husband once did an experiment where he wouldn’t volunteer information about himself unless someone asked. Instead, he put his focus into listening and helping the other person talk. I had been trying to do that for weeks and had failed and failed and made slight progress a couple times and then failed. I just could not for the life of me think of how to keep the conversation going if I wasn’t sharing thoughts. It’s like every time someone says something, my mind goes to a billion different things I have to say or have experienced that relate to the conversation, which is fine, but not when once I open my mouth, I just go from one thing to another and end up hogging the conversation. And what makes it especially tough is that I’m pretty sure my friends are all those kind of people that are great listeners and could ask me questions and keep me talking for hours. Their fantastic listening abilities were making it really difficult for me to switch them places!
So there I was, right, sitting in sacrament, thinking of the difficulties I had been having with repenting in this particular area, when the thought came as clear as a chime: You value your own ideas and experiences above other people’s.
It was like someone just pointed out a giant spider on the wall. There it was! It made me sound like a big, hairy jerk, but it was deep down true. I treasured my own learning experiences and opinions so much to the point that I felt that they trumped everyone else’s. That’s why it was hard for me to think of questions to ask. That’s why it was hard to suppress my tongue from rattling off my experience when someone just told me theirs. I couldn’t see beyond myself.
And just like when a doctor can finally figure out why you’ve been having a mysterious ailment: the treatment is then a cinch. Once I saw what my real problem was as to why I was a terrible listener, listening got instantly easier. I tried to listen to what people were saying to me and value it, to see it as they did, to seek to understand the importance of what they were sharing. Instead of thinking about what I thought or have experienced, I focused on processing what they were telling me–thinking about what they were saying. And can I just say, people are so cool! They are really just as complex as I am, with lots of thoughts and lots of experiences. And although everyone is at different places in learning and have opinions or values that differ from my own, I’m learning how to not need to correct them or show a different side to the issue, but to just be content in coming to understand someone better for who they are in that moment. My prize at the end of the conversation is not to be understood, but to have understood.
And I’m coming to find peace among my fellows. I like people more as I truly listen to them. Boo-yah.