I once had the opportunity to hear author Alexandra Fuller speak about her memoir, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood. She had incredible things to say-- she spoke of their hardships, hunting in the dessert, being caught in war. There was one line she said in particular though, that spoke volumes to me:
"If the quality of our listening changes, then perhaps the quality of our speech will become more noble."
This line took my breath away. I am a very talkative person. So loud and chatty that I have often (albeit jokingly) been accused of being hard of hearing. Growing up, my Dad used to pull me aside and tell me, "its great that you are so passionate about the things you say, but you need to give other people a chance to talk, and you need to listen." "Okay, Dad," I would reply and begrudgingly listen. I think I am finally starting to understand what he meant all those years ago.
I was never one to refuse to listen to others all together, I was polite-- but there is politely 'listening,' and then there is listening. The later being truly listening with a mind so open to what another person has to say, that you return to your convictions with a new perspective. I am learning every day to become a better listener; I have come to a point where there is nothing I love more than listening to someone speak from their heart. I cannot think of a more empowering thing than listening to someone speak with raw vulnerability about their personal truths about their lives and beliefs and passions.
I love to hear someone's story. Tell me everything about you. Don’t skip the details. The intricacies are important. Therein lies the humanity of every individual that connects us all. Everyone has a story, and the more stories we learn, the more compassionate and empathetic we become. I love hearing stories because I like knowing people. It's impossible to really hear and understand every single person we meet, but it's important that we try to absorb as much as we can with open minds. The more we can do this, the kinder and more loving we will become in both words and actions.
I would argue that even some of the greatest world leaders are so passionate in their opinions that they forget to listen and comprehend the perspectives of those around them. Imagine what the world would look like if the greatest intellectuals of our time learned to appreciate each other for all the little things that make up our nations? Our cultures? Our hardships? Our stories?
I am beginning to appreciate the value of listening, but admittedly have a long way to go until the entire quality of my listening changes, but I am on my way, and it's powerful. Learning to listen with an open heart is the most rewarding lesson I have learned in my short twenty years. It is with that that I say Thank you to Alexandra Fuller. Thank you Dad, I should have listened to you telling me to listen a little sooner.