Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
How often has there been a problem between two people because of a lack of understanding? We see it happen time and time again. It’s an age old problem: I am not understanding you—and what happens as a result? We call it a breakdown in communication.
Understanding is actually one key for us to live in harmony and peace with each other. The lack of understanding has very great consequences. War happens because nations do not understand each other. Racial discrimination, broken marriages, crimes—happen because people are misunderstood or people misunderstood other people. As Dr John C. Maxwell, author of the book entitled Relationships 101, says, “Lack of understanding concerning others is a recurrent source of tension in our society.”
We can be so quick to jump to conclusions about other people, especially people who are a bit different in some way to ourselves. There is so much we can learn from others when we stop and take the time to really get to know and understand them. When we stop and walk alongside someone for a while we can gain a whole new understanding of them, and are able to see their gifts and talents and those things that make them unique.
Let’s Focus on Understanding Others
St Francis of Assisi once wrote, “Let us strive to understand others, than to be understood”. It’s a great statement, because we all have to learn how to get on with others, to understand them, even if that is difficult and challenging.
I believe one of the problems is that we don’t listen to one another carefully anymore. Listening—what a lost art! Jimmy Buffett covers a song originally released by Fred Neil in the 60s, called Everybody’s Talkin’. The first line of the song is a good description of today’s business world, and today’s society; it says:
Everybody’s talkin’ at me
I don’t’ hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind
Do you agree with these words? How often do you walk away from a conversation, meeting, or phone call thinking, Why won’t they just listen to me? Or here’s a scary thought: how often do people walk away from you wondering if you listened to a word they were saying? You see it works both ways.
Maybe as we go through this life we need to slow down and listen to people’s life stories before we jump to conclusions about them. We need to try to understand people before we make judgements about them. We must hear what they’re saying—to listen carefully. Actually, listening does not come naturally to most of us—we need to work hard at it; to stop ourselves from jumping into the conversation and giving our own opinion. We all like to be listened to and understood. Steven Covey said, “When we are understood we feel affirmed and validated”.
Jesus Was a Great Listener—A Role Model to Follow
Jesus is a great role model as he went around listening to and caring for others. You may know the story recorded in John 4:1-27 where he met up with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. You might know the story: It was midday, the hottest part of the day. Jesus sat down, weary, and a Samaritan woman joined him to get a drink of water from the well. Jews traditionally did not speak to a Samaritan, but Jesus broke the rule and asked her to get him a drink.
He opened up a life-changing conversation which led her to realise Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. The disciples returned to the well and were surprised to see Jesus talking to the woman. She didn’t have a good reputation—broken marriages—but Jesus didn’t condemn her. He showed an incredible ability to look past her façade or mask, but he knew this woman. He observes her actions, her life, her words, and he really hears what she is saying.
Like Jesus, we really need to have his eyes and ears to hear and see what people are saying. If we do carefully listen and try to understand others, we may hear hurt, anger, disappointment, loneliness, longings for comfort and desires for purpose in life. When was the last time you gave your time, words and heart to help someone else?
Learn to express empathy—this means to feel into someone’s pain. It’s focused on the other person, instead of yourself. It’s deeper than sympathy—understands feelings and tries to do something to help. In Brazil they have a saying: “If you’re stuck in a hole, a sympathetic person will get into the hole with you. The empathetic person will give you a rope to get out”.