Soli Deo Gloria

Listening and Speaking

The best thing about lockdown is probably the increased frequency of the family chats that we have. We have double the number of chats now, taking place during lunch and dinner. Some were quite uneventful as we carried on in the mundane. Some were seemingly hostile as conflict simmered throughout the meal. Among these however, there were also some that brought quite profound insight.

My dad heard of a quote somewhere:

“the longest distance in the universe is from your ear to your head.”

We all thought about it, laughter bellowing. I pondered about it thoughtfully, acknowledging the truthfulness of such words. Out of nowhere, my older brother brilliantly remarked:

“The shortest distance in the universe is between your head and your mouth!”

My dad quickly followed:

“yeah, and it’s all within the same head!”

Laughter continued, where I stated that should use these words sometime. Here I am using these words now.

What a profound set of statements, because they reveal a lot about the absurdity of the human condition. As we have observed in Rule 7 of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life to “Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient“, selfishness is an ingrained trait of human nature. As a consequence of our selfishness, we default to being bad listeners. As humans we naturally gravitate to that which only concerns us, only that which is of direct consequence for us. As a result most of the time we speak of ourselves and not of others.

We see that there is this sort of chasm, this sort of disconnect between listening and speaking. In a conversation, it is difficult to truly be a good listener, to truly sympathise with the person we are conversing with. In direct juxtaposition to being horrible listeners, we are rather quick to speak. James’ epistle elicits the impatient quickness of our tongues.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

‭‭James‬ ‭3:1-12‬ ‭(ESV‬)

Through this impatience and quickness, we experience the corollary of carelessness in speech, causing unnecessary hurt. I would say that a lot of human misunderstanding is encapsulated by the fact that we are indeed horrible listeners as well as quick speakers. In this way, human communication is extremely inefficient and inaccurate. The classic game of Chinese whispers highlights our horrible ability of us hear as well as to speak (albeit being quite an artificial example) where the message at the end of the relay is not even a distant relative of the initial statement. The consequences of this chasm between hearing and listening are extremely far reaching, extending to various human emotions. For instance, a hot and quick temper.

What can we learn from this? Well, the first step for any problem that requires fixing is realising that it’s there. We’ve identified that there is a problem. The next is to train ourselves in being good listeners, to learn to genuinely hanging on to each word of the people we converse with. Rule 9 of Peterson’s 12 Rules for life suggests us to “assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”. We should try very hard to understand things from their perspective and sympathise with them. To learn how to better read the room. Moreover, the next aim is to really think what we say before we speak. To think twice, even three times before messaging someone, considering the possible ramifications that it may ensue (This may be hard if you have a fast typing speed). We should process and consider our thoughts before we speak as much as we can, although in spontaneous discussion that might be extremely difficult and not to mention tiring. Getting better at listening will help us not be rash with what we say, and considering the quickness of our words will help us be better listeners. Improving at one will inevitably complement the other.


Selfish Sharing and Human Expediency


The Utility of Absence


  1. It seems listening is becoming rarer as the world gets more connected online. Thanks for this message, hope your family continues to have more great conversations!

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