Be a Good Listener!
“Listen intently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul find its exquisite delight in fatness itself.”—Isa. 55:2.
1. What principal channels of learning do we possess?
JEHOVAH GOD designed the human body with two ears and thus provided one of the most important channels for learning that we have. During the first few years of life we learn to speak and understand a language by means of them. They are our principal channel for learning at that time. Throughout the rest of our life we grow in knowledge from verbal instruction given by our parents, teachers, employers and others. Our eyes, of course, are also important organs for learning. It is thought that these two organs—the ears and the eyes—are the means by which we obtain 98 percent of what we learn in our lifetime. But how well our ears serve us as a channel for learning depends upon our ability to listen.
2. Explain why listening affects our growth in knowledge.
2 It is written at Proverbs 18:15: “The heart of the understanding one acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise ones seeks to find knowledge.” We get knowledge through the ears when we listen to other persons. This means paying attention and giving thoughtful consideration to what they say. It means making an effort to prevent the mind from wandering to other things, as that causes the ears to become deaf even though they may function properly in a physical way. In order to hear, your mind must be receptive to the sounds conveyed to it by your ears. Think of the times that someone has told you something at a time when your mind was on other things and later you sincerely maintained that it was never told you. Your ears faithfully conveyed the sounds to your mind, but you did not hear because you were not listening.
3. How does God speak to us today, and why should we listen to him ?
3 A vast source of wisdom and knowledge from which we can constantly learn is Jehovah God himself, our Creator. It is written in his Word: “Jehovah himself gives wisdom; out of his mouth there are knowledge and discernment.” (Prov. 2:6) He speaks to us today through his written Word, the Bible. Whether we are using our eyes to read what is there or using our ears to hear what someone else is reading aloud from it, we gain the knowledge he gave to the ancient Bible writers. This is the way to become spiritually well-nourished. It is with good reason, then, that Jehovah God says at Isaiah 55:2: “Listen intently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul find its exquisite delight in fatness itself.” By letting our minds feed upon the upbuilding knowledge and wholesome things God provides in his inspired Word we can gain spiritual health. As fatness indicates health when compared with the emaciated condition of a person suffering from malnutrition, so spiritual fatness indicates spiritual health, and this is what the prophecy promises those who listen attentively to Jehovah.
4-6. (a) Why is Samuel an example of a good listener? (b) Who else in the Bible manifested good listening ability, and how is this evident?
4 The prophet Samuel is an example of a good listener. He paid close attention whenever Jehovah spoke to him. When he was still a young boy, Jehovah called to him while he was lying down in his place in the temple. Samuel said in reply: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:10) Because Samuel’s mind was not wandering to other things, such as the duties he had to perform in the temple that day, while Jehovah was speaking, he was able to remember everything he was told and could relate it later to High Priest Eli. He listened carefully, completely absorbed in what Jehovah said to him. This is a fine example of good listening for us today.
5 What do you do when you sit in an audience to which a Bible talk is being given? Do you listen as attentively as Samuel did? Or do you permit your mind to drift to other thoughts and so miss much of what is said? Only half listening is not the way to increase your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. Can you imagine Jesus’ apostles only half listening when he spoke to them on the Mount of Olives about things that would take place in the last days? It is not likely that any of them were thinking of other things such as whether a bird scratching nearby was finding a worm or some relative was among the people that could be seen milling about the temple courtyard on the other side of the Kidron Valley. Without a doubt their minds were completely concentrated on what Jesus said. By listening to him they showed themselves to be wise. They gained faith-building and life-sustaining information from God’s own Son.
6 Throughout Jesus’ ministry the apostles listened so attentively that they were able to remember years later the details of his conversations. Eight years after Jesus died Matthew wrote these details in what is now the Bible book of Matthew. Sixty-five years later the apostle John wrote many intimate details of what Jesus said and did in what is now the Bible book of John. God’s spirit helped them to remember what they had heard, but if they had not listened, the details would not have been in their minds for the holy spirit to bring back to remembrance. (John 14:26) Cultivating the habit of listening when someone is speaking about the truths of God’s Word is just as important to us today as it was for the apostles.
MAKE LISTENING A HABIT
7. What is our usual listening efficiency, and what can be done to improve it?
7 Of all the time we spend communicating with other persons, we spend 45 percent of it listening. Although this is one of the things we do most frequently in our lives, it is estimated that we operate at a listening level of about 25 percent efficiency. Some persons may have even lower levels. Surely it is worth the effort needed to improve your listening ability, which is so important in your daily life. A conscious effort has to be made in order to do this. As soon as you find your mind wandering during a talk bring it back to what your ears are hearing. Since the knowledge in God’s Word is vitally necessary for good relations with him, you have a good incentive to pay more than passing attention to it.
8. How can a person become deaf to a speaker although his ears are functioning properly?
8 With effort good listening can become a habit, but it will take time to break the bad habit of permitting the mind to wander freely during a talk from one disconnected thought to another. Such mental excursions can cause you to become deaf to what the speaker is saying even though your ears function properly. Not until you return from the excursion will the words coming in your ears make sense in your mind. But then it is difficult to pick up the speaker’s line of reasoning and argument because of what was missed. It would be much more beneficial to you to exercise enough effort to overcome the wandering tendency of your mind. Once you establish the habit of listening, it will become easier to keep your mind on what your ears are hearing.
9. What is meant by ‘paying more than the usual attention’ to the things heard?
9 At Hebrews 2:1 it is written: “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” The manner in which the apostles listened to Jesus is ‘paying more than the usual attention.’ That was attentive listening. More than the usual attention is not half listening. It is not allowing the mind to wander to the things you did yesterday or plan to do tomorrow. It is not wrestling with a personal problem or worrying about something while someone is speaking. It means turning over in your mind what he says and applying to your own life the Bible principles or counsel he brings out. What makes a Bible talk important and of value is not the person speaking but the information he expounds from God’s Word. Anything from that divine Word is worthy of more than the usual attention given to the commonplace things heard every day.
WAYS TO IMPROVE LISTENING HABIT
10-12. (a) Why is interest a big factor in good listening? (b) What preconceived notions does a good listener avoid?
10 Interest is a big factor in good listening. When God gave Noah the dimensions of the ark, Noah got all of them correct because he was interested in what God told him and listened with rapt attention. But the person who concludes that the subject a speaker is due to speak on is dry and uninteresting commits an error that is common with poor listeners. This conclusion causes lack of interest and encourages the mind to wander to other thoughts. Another person who does listen may mention at the conclusion of the talk some of the interesting facts and good arguments brought out by the speaker which were missed by the one who did not listen. Then he may wish he had paid closer attention, and he may be surprised that he missed so much.
11 A good listener avoids the preconceived notion that any subject is uninteresting. He concludes that the speaker would not be up there speaking if he did not have something worth saying, so he tunes in to see what he can learn. It is better to do that than to waste the time fidgeting in a chair wishing the speaker would finish. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the subject will be uninteresting, make up your mind to find something of interest in it such as a fact that was not known to you before, a fresh way of expressing something, an argument that can be used, and so forth. Just the effort of trying to find something of interest can do much to help you pay attention.
12 Another factor contributing to poor listening is to conclude in advance that the speaker has nothing worth while to say. This is a listening pitfall that good listeners avoid. They realize that other persons know things they do not know and that a speaker is likely to have bits of valuable information gleaned from the research done when preparing the talk. So they listen so as to catch these bits of information and add them to their fund of knowledge.
13. Why is it wrong to conclude that a poor speaker has nothing worth while to say?
13 Perhaps the speaker has poor speaking ability, but that is no reason to decide that he is not worthy of a listening ear. It does not mean the material he has is of little value. The apostle Paul apparently was not a polished speaker, but the things he had to say were worthy of close attention. In his second letter to the Corinthians he reveals the opinion that some persons had of his speaking ability when he says: “For, say they: ‘his letters are weighty and forceful, but his presence in person is weak and his speech contemptible.’” (2 Cor. 10:10) Despite this opinion some persons had of him, those who overlooked his shortcomings as a speaker and listened to what he had to say greatly increased their understanding of God’s Word and purposes. So delivery, proper grammar, coherence and correct pronunciation are not the most important factors in a talk, although they do make listening easier. The reasoning, the arguments, the facts and the principles are more important.
14. Explain why our thinking speed can contribute to the habit of poor listening.
14 Still another factor contributing to poor listening is the great difference between the speed we speak and the speed of our thoughts. The English language is spoken at an average rate of 125 words per minute, but when speaking to an audience this rate is likely to be somewhat slower, about 100 words per minute. With our minds thinking at an average rate of at least 400 to 500 words per minute, there is quite a bit of time for the mind to do other things. This tempts it to go off in pursuit of unrelated thoughts. A good listener makes use of this speed difference so as to impress on his mind what the speaker says, and there are various ways this can be done.
15, 16. How can we put to good use our great thinking speed so as to improve our listening ability?
15 From what a speaker is saying try to anticipate the next point. In this way the greater speed of your mind can be used to run ahead of the speaker, and if the anticipated point is correct, learning is reinforced by the point coming into the mind twice. On the other hand, when a different point is anticipated, a comparison can be made of the two so as to determine why the speaker chose the other point. This will be making use of the best way we learn, which is by comparison and contrast.
16 Look for the elements the speaker uses to support his points. This will help to evaluate the talk. During pauses make quick mental summaries of what he has said, noting how the theme is being emphasized and developed. Analyze the points he brings out as to their relationship to the theme. The theme can be compared with the hub of a wheel to which all the supporting points, like the spokes, are fastened, giving support to the entire talk. Unfortunately, some speakers fail to speak coherently and fail to emphasize their theme. When this is encountered, it is necessary to make an even greater effort to keep your mind from going off on excursions.
17. Why is it best to listen for principles rather than facts?
17 Listening only for facts is not the way to be a listener who retains what he hears. Facts can best be remembered when the way they are tied in with the argument and the way they support it is clearly seen. Unless some connection can be observed, isolated facts are soon forgotten. For this reason, good listeners listen mainly for the principal idea that the facts support. In this way they get the principles and can use them as connecting threads for tying the entire talk, with its facts, into a comprehensible whole. The supporting facts can be remembered by recalling the principles and by understanding the reason for them. They act like hangers upon which the facts are hung. When the principles are brought out of your memory they will usually bring the facts with them.
18. What is one method of taking notes that can improve a person’s listening ability and his retention of what a speaker says?
18 Note-taking is very helpful in remembering what was said. A good practice is to use two sheets of paper. Mark one “Principles” and the other “Facts.” As the talk progresses write down the principles the speaker brings out and then on the other sheet the supporting facts. Make the notations brief so most of the time can be spent listening. A good listener usually listens for several minutes without making any notes, and then he will make a brief one-sentence summary of what was heard. In the meantime the speedy thinking ability of the mind can be analyzing the talk, summarizing what was said and anticipating what might be said.
THE BENEFITS FROM A GOOD LISTENING HABIT
19. What are some of the benefits from a good listening habit?
19 In the business world a person makes himself a valuable employee when he shows that he is a good listener and can be depended upon to get verbal instructions correct. But of far greater importance is the beneficial spiritual knowledge he can gain by being a good listener when talks are given on Bible subjects such as at the various assemblies Jehovah’s witnesses have from year to year as well as at their Kingdom Halls. Since the average person lacks the time to do all the Biblical research that goes into these talks, he is able to expand greatly his personal knowledge of God’s Word by being a good listener. Fresh, stimulating viewpoints and arguments in such talks can strengthen his faith and deepen his appreciation for Scriptural truth. Good counsel helps him to maintain good conduct and a healthy attitude. The benefits are many from paying close attention.
20. With what can Bible talks today be compared, and what are their benefits?
20 We might compare these Bible talks with the occasions when the nation of Israel gathered together as a huge audience, and a speaker spoke to them about the law of God. One of these occasions was shortly after they had crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Following the fall of the cities of Jericho and Ai, they assembled in a narrow valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. From a vantage point, probably on the side of Mt. Ebal where he had built an altar, Joshua read to them the law of God. (Josh. 8:30-35) A voice can carry very easily across this narrow valley. What they heard refreshed their memories about what God required of them and reminded them of their dependence upon him. So too do Bible talks today.
21. Where is it reasonable to conclude the Israelite children were when Joshua spoke to the assembled people, and why was this good?
21 It is difficult to imagine that the parents in that gathering allowed their children to run about, to talk or to walk aimlessly among the assembled crowd while Joshua was speaking. More than likely, the children were right with their parents, paying close attention, even though some of the things Joshua said may have been difficult for them to understand. They learned respect for God’s Word and were given a good foundation for growth to spiritual maturity. Should it be any different today?
22. How can children be taught by their parents to become good listeners?
22 From an early age children can be taught to remain seated at a talk and to pay attention. They can be encouraged to pick out one or two points from the talk and to be ready to tell their parents about them at the conclusion of the program. In fact, the parents can ask them a few questions. This should encourage the children from an early age to develop the good habit of listening, a habit that will enable them, as they grow up, to “make a defense before everyone” that demands a reason for their hope.—1 Pet. 3:15.
23. How can Scriptural talks on things difficult to understand benefit a person?
23 Talks on subjects difficult to understand are a good test of one’s listening ability. If he is a poor listener his mind is soon wandering aimlessly. At the conclusion of the talk he goes away without having benefited from the strong spiritual meat in it, and so he has missed an opportunity to grow spiritually. The good listener, on the other hand, strives to be more attentive than usual, making a greater effort to catch the principles and to reason on the supporting arguments. Even if he fails to understand all that is in the talk, what he does get will elevate his Scriptural knowledge and broaden his understanding a little more. He will not be stunted in spiritual growth, unable to take anything but spiritual milk. That is the way he strengthens the foundations of his faith and grows in ability to digest the spiritually deep things of God’s Word.—Heb. 5:12-14.
24. Of what benefit are talks that bring out the counsel and discipline of God’s Word, and how can appreciation be shown for them?
24 Whether a person is mature or immature, he needs the counsel and discipline of God’s Word just as the Israelites did so as to know how to direct his steps into the future. “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.” (Prov. 19:20) Without that guidance it is very easy to make a false step that can take you into the broad road that leads away from the goal of eternal life. (Matt. 7:13, 14) That counsel is given in talks at the Kingdom Hall and especially at large, yearly district assemblies of Jehovah’s people. Now, what about the person that is wandering about the assembly grounds when such counsel is being given? Is he following the advice at Proverbs 19:20? Is he learning how to keep his path of life straight in the eyes of God? Is he learning how to avoid disastrous pitfalls? And what about the person that leaves before the speaker is finished? Would he not be better benefited by waiting a few minutes more and listening to all that the speaker has to say? Would that not be showing greater appreciation for a provision designed to instruct and strengthen him spiritually?
25, 26. Why is it vitally important for Christians to be good listeners at this time?
25 During the short time remaining for this old system of things, we need strong faith as well as the knowledge that permits us to give a fine testimony to the people of this old system of things and its rulers. To do this we need the Scriptural enlightenment, the strengthening arguments, the stimulating words of encouragement and the correcting counsel presented in talks at assemblies as well as in talks at the Kingdom Halls. By means of them Jehovah’s organization is teaching us through the ear, giving us the means to be wise in the future course we choose to follow. It is, therefore, vitally necessary to be a good listener. Consider the ability to listen to be as important to us as the ability to speak. As we are Scripturally obligated to speak about the fine things in God’s Word, so we are obliged to listen to them.
26 By your being a good listener your spiritual advancement will become manifest not only to yourself but also to others with whom you speak. (1 Tim. 4:15, 16) Listen intently and make proper use of the ears God gave you. With the knowledge you can gain by listening grow in spiritual health and fatness to your own eternal welfare.