While not all my peers share my sentiment, I’m proud to be a millennial. It’s no secret that we have our shortcomings and flaws, but I think the negative stereotypes of our generation are grossly exaggerated – so much so that I’ll have write a full article about it. But not today.
I think one of our weaknesses, however, is our inability to listen. Or maybe we CAN listen, but oftentimes we choose not to or we don’t make the effort. It’s true that our generation is surrounded by noise ALL the time. Whether via phones, TV, internet, music, social media, we are constantly consuming…stuff. We are known for voicing a lot of opinions and challenging the status quo, which is all great! It becomes a problem, though, when we voice and challenge without listening in return.
We could solve so many of our problems if we just listened more.
Remember that listening is much different than hearing: listening requires engagement, it requires actively receiving, processing, and responding to information. It doesn’t mean you have to change your mind or question your beliefs. If what you believe is true, listening to opposition can actually fortify your position. If your position is shaky, however, you may find yourself questioning your beliefs. BUT if we are honestly searching for the truth, we shouldn’t be afraid to find it.
Now the listening problem is certainly not just a millennial problem; it’s a people problem as old as Adam and Eve and that apple.
In reflecting on our listening deficiency, I put together a list of times and situations that we should all listen more. Not only can better listening improve your outlook, I believe it can change your life.
Listen to your spouse (or significant other): The most cliche relationship advice EVER is to communicate. It is great advice but I think it’s too vague. Communication can come in many forms and mediums. One could justify their cussing and screaming in the name of “communication”, but that obviously does nothing to improve a relationship. Good communication comes in the form of voicing your opinions, wants, needs, problems, etc., actively listening to your spouse when they voice theirs, and responding accordingly. Everyone gives and receives love differently and therefore listening becomes all the more important. Gary Chapman does a much better job at explaining than I ever could on his website and in his book “The 5 Love Languages”. Listening allows you to learn your spouse’s love language, it shows you care, it gives you the information to solve problems, big and small, sometimes before they arise, and it allows for a strong, fulfilling, and lasting relationship.
Listen to your kids: I’m only just getting started with the whole being a dad thing, but I know this is something I really want to stress in how I parent. I’m so thankful that I grew up with parents who listened. As a kid, life is pretty straightforward: you want to have fun, you want to be loved, and you want to be heard. In my unprofessional opinion, when these needs aren’t met, children are unfulfilled, and parents suffer the rebellion. I think our generation naturally has some built-in “rebellion”, which has its own pros and cons, but stifling your child’s voice or not lending an ear can greatly exacerbate any issues (which you wouldn’t know about if you’re not listening anyways). I firmly believe that so many parent-child relationships would be strengthened and even saved if parents lent a listening or sympathetic ear when their child needed it: when they ask to spend more time together, or express interest in music instead of math, or come to them with their problems. Now sometimes, oftentimes, as a parent the answer must be a firm “No”: “No, you can’t have cookies for dinner”, “No, you can’t have a pet tiger”, “No, you can’t get a tattoo for your 10th birthday”. But a child’s voice shouldn’t regularly fall upon deaf or unsympathetic ears. If you don’t listen to your kids, they’ll find someone who will.
Listen to opposition: I think this might be one of our biggest shortcomings. I mean have you SEEN the comment sections on Facebook and YouTube? Sometimes, between the illiterate death threats and the unoriginal mom-insults, you can see someone trying to voice a logical argument. But no one listens. It’s OK to have strong opinions. In fact, you SHOULD have strong opinions. But you don’t convince anyone through screams and insults. Our arguments often breakdown to who can deliver the best BURRRRRRN, regardless of the flawed logic used for the delivery. It’s sad how polarized we are, too. When the latest news comes out, we don’t wait for facts and information; we don’t LISTEN. We jump to conclusions and make assumptions. Didn’t you mother tell you what happens when you ASS-U-ME? We see it in politics a whole lot. No one seems to be listening to the other side of the aisle. We are just satisfied to call the opposition Hitler or the Devil.
Everyone wants to be heard in these very noisy times. But no one wants to listen. How many arguments and how much hate have been caused by misunderstanding your opponent? I believe that our goals and beliefs are more aligned than we may think and, if we listened to each other more, we could literally change the political and social landscape of the world.
Listen at work: Whether you’re the boss, the low man on the totem pole, or somewhere in between, it would behoove you to listen more at work. As a leader, it’s so important to hear what those under your authority have to say. Like always, it shows you care. It assures them that you are looking out for them and are genuinely concerned for their well-being. Not only does this play out well as a business strategy, but you begin to build a happier workplace. It just makes sense that boss-employee relationships are better when the boss listens. As an employee, a boss wants nothing more than a employee who listens. If it’s criticism, take it in stride, and adjust to improve. If it’s praise, double-down on what you’re doing right, and continue to succeed. Again, this plays out well for your career, as an employee who really listens is invaluable and will network well, but you’ll also improve your workplace and relationships. Finally, listen to your fellow coworkers. You will work more effectively, build friendships, and encourage a happier work environment. Listening also provides the chance to build lasting work relationships and grow your network which could literally pay dividends. Listening at work is not just a good business strategy, but the right thing to do.
Listen to God: “But I can’t hear Him!” Are you listening? God does not force His will or His words on anyone; if we tell Him to leave us alone or pretend that we’re too busy for Him, how can we expect to hear Him? He preaches through the Bible, He teaches through His Church, and He speaks to our hearts. But we must make time to listen, we must block out the noise to hear His voice, and we must resolve to act on His words. Do we only run to Him when we’re upset, or scared, or in despair? In His Goodness, He will receive us every time. But we also must lend our ear to Him. Like in any relationship, how can we expect to grow in love and knowledge without communication? Jesus Himself taught us that life isn’t always just peachy, and that listening to Him isn’t always the easy choice. We have to be willing to deny ourselves, admit our faults, and strive to do better. The good news is that when we listen to God, though it may be difficult, we can live freely and more fully. What I have personally noticed about listening to God is that, while we always have a choice in the matter, sometimes His voice and His will are crystal clear and the path forward is obvious. Other times, however, there are multiple “right ways”, and, beg as we might for Him to “show us the way”, He hands the decision right back to us. Whether His voice is clear and booming or distant and faint, listening to God will only change your life for the better.
In all of these aspects of life, listening strengthens relationships, expresses love, resolves problems, and can quite literally change lives. I hope that you will join me in resolving to listen more, no matter whom you’re with, where you are, or what you believe.