“Pay Attention to How You Listen”
HAVE you ever had the experience of being unable to recall the name of the person to whom you were just introduced? When commenting at a meeting, has it ever been brought to your attention that your expression was identical to the one just made? Or, on leaving a meeting, has it ever been the case that you could not recall the names of the speakers or the subjects they were discussing? In all probability you have had one of these or similar experiences. If they are regular occurrences, then it is of utmost importance to your eternal welfare to heed Jesus’ counsel to “pay attention to how you listen.”—Luke 8:18.
On occasions our mind’s inability to register what is said may be made light of, yet actually it is no laughing matter. There was the case of a young engineer who was in a conference discussing the details of an important new plant site for a major client. Suddenly he proposed what he considered a sensible solution to the problem. After a moment of uncomfortable silence the head of the concern laughingly pointed out that the same proposal had been made and rejected a few minutes earlier. The incident caused amusement at the time; months later it was remembered by the young engineer, but not as being humorous. Then the project had been successfully completed and most of the young engineers who had worked on it received promotions, but not the one who had made a fool of himself at the conference because of not ‘paying attention to how he listened.’
Jesus’ instruction to be concerned with how we listen indicates there are improper ways of listening that should be avoided. Such bad listening habits can have serious results, meaning not only the loss of a job or a promotion, but even leading to the loss of our very lives. The faulty listening of people today has caused a number of major industries and more than twenty colleges to set up “listening clinics” to study people’s listening habits and how to improve them.
Such studies have revealed what one’s own experience can tell—our minds often are not concentrating on what is being said. Since our thoughts can race along four to ten times faster than most people speak, we often fail to let our minds dwell on what is being said. Instead we tune our minds out—“I wonder if I turned the stove off before leaving.” “Oh, I must see So-and-So after the meeting”—and by the time we tune back in an important point of instruction may have been missed. How appropriate and to the point is Jesus’ instruction to “pay attention to what you are hearing”!—Mark 4:24.
Paying attention to what you are hearing means more than paying attention to the words being spoken. A poor listener hears just words and fails to get the ideas. He has not learned to look for and pick out the main ideas and to discern the strong arguments and details that go to support these ideas. Of course, a good speaker with a well-ordered outline makes this easier, but a good listener will learn to find the major points and the supporting arguments of even a complicated outline, delivered in an uninteresting, monotonous style. On occasions such a speaker has the more valuable material, and the good listener is the one that will benefit.
In Jesus’ day multitudes listened to him. They marveled at his sayings and enjoyed hearing his speaking. Yet Jesus showed that many were poor listeners when he said: “Though hearing, they may hear and yet not get the sense of it.” A good listener has a good motive for listening. His purpose is to acquire knowledge that he can use in the future, both to benefit himself and those with whom he comes in contact. The majority that heard Jesus did not have this proper motive characteristic of all good listeners. Instead they were like those of Ezekiel’s day, and Jesus was to them “like one with a beautiful voice and playing a stringed instrument well.” They heard his words, but did not do them.—Mark 4:12; Ezek. 33:32.
Jesus’ mother Mary was a good listener, setting a pattern for Christians to follow. When the shepherds found her and the babe Jesus in the manger and told the details of how they were directed there by the angels, the account says that “Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her mind.” When still but a child Jesus spoke words of wisdom, and “his mother carefully kept all these sayings in her heart.” A good listener is alert to discern the meaning of what is said. He will meditate and reason on what he has heard and will preserve such sayings for future use.—Luke 2:19, 51.
A major fault in listening, revealed by a study of clinic students, is that many mentally block out ideas that are opposed to strong opinions they already have. Unconsciously they are afraid they might hear something that will make them question their views. The ear has an amazing ability to focus on what it wants to hear, and to block out what it does not want to hear. O the words may enter the ear all right, but they are not allowed to register on the brain.
The days of Noah provide an example. The scripture says that ‘Noah was a preacher of righteousness’; the people heard what he was saying, but “they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.” (2 Pet. 2:5; Matt. 24:39) They blocked their ears by not letting their minds give consideration to what they were hearing. “They took no note” of what they had heard. It was a message that was opposed to their way of thinking and way of life, and so, as has been found by researchers to be true of people today, they mentally blocked out what they did not want to hear. Such poor listening habits resulted in their everlasting destruction.
Jesus said that, “just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” (Matt. 24:37) In this day of Christ’s second presence the vast majority, as in the days of Noah, are not ‘paying attention to how they listen.’ It is a life and death matter! All who love life, when hearing the words of life spoken from God’s Word the Bible, will ‘pay attention to what they are hearing.’ They will ‘pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by them, that they may never drift away.’—Heb. 2:1.