13 To answer before listening – that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
Imagine a young baseball player sheepishly walking in to meet with their coach as he sits in the middle of a 0 for 30 slump at the plate. The coach asks: “what’s going on?”. The player begins: “I just don’t feel I’m seeing the ball..”; the coach immediately jumps in and says: “oh I’ve got the solution”. The coach takes his glasses off and hands them to the player and says: “Try these on. The same thing happened to me at your age; I got these, and my batting average went up a hundred points.” Bewildered, the player says: “but coach that’s not what I…” “Just put them” on barks the coach. The player put’s them on and the coach asks: “well, how does it look?”. “Awful; everything is a blur coach”, says the player. “What’s your problem”, says the coach, “you just need to think more positively about the glasses. Wow, how ungrateful are you?”
Ludicrous right? A coach like that not only needs to be relieved of their duties, but likely could use some professional counseling. The analogy actually comes from Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, and he uses the analogy of a patient coming to an optometrist and being given the optometrist’s glasses before even doing an eye exam. Obviously, this is equally ludicrous, but if we honestly apply this to the way most of us listen, we might begin to see the ridiculousness of some of our listening.
In Covey’s book, Habit 5 is: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”. Covey really challenges us to question our motives when listening. If you are having a disagreement with someone and you ask them “what’s wrong?”, are you really preparing yourself to hear their heart or are you loading your revolver with bullets ready to fire back? If someone is just feeling down and you ask: “what’s wrong?”, will you actually take the time to listen, or will you be formulating your “solution” or your “fix” still while they are talking? Covey suggests that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.”[i]
Considered the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon had much to write on listening, and he doesn’t mince his words. He wrote: “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2) and “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13). God has recently convicted me in the area of listening. I’d say most people around me would consider me a reasonable listener, especially since we’ve set the bar pretty low as men, but as I read Covey’s description of actual listening, I realized that I have a great deal to change and learn. I really am listening “with the intent to reply” rather than listening for the sake of first understanding. I recently had a chance to put this into practise as a relative called me and we spoke late into the night. I did my best to “Empathically Listen”, as Covey calls it. It was a real stretch for me not to try to solve her complex relational challenges, but in doing so I was able to better understand real hurts, many which went back 40 plus years. I don’t want to be a fool, as Solomon calls it, and “find no pleasure in understanding”. I want to be an effective disciple for Christ, but if I am unable to be an effective listener, it will be impossible to have any real impact on those around me. How about you? Do you ACTUALLY listen? Lord, turn us into loving, effective listeners.
[i] (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989), Covey, Stephen R. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY