Recent research identifies “listening programs” that have been developed to improve brain function and positively impact functionality and mood for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Down syndrome, learning disabilities, auditory processing disorders (APD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, Rhett syndrome, dyspraxia, cerebral palsy, fibromyalgia, arthritis and stroke. In more ways than we’ve ever known before listening can be good for us, especially listening differently than our habits may dictate.
Listening differently means, I’d argue, offering full attention with our whole bodies. Turning toward the speaker, making eye contact, tracking the speaker’s themes as s/he tells a story, naming the emotions that the speaker may be experiencing and noting changes in the speaker’s tone or physical posture, all these are a part of listening. In psychotherapy training programs, active listening is a skill that is taught and evaluated. This communication of accurate empathy in response to a speaker is a crucial skill in the art of listening. It invites the speaker to explore more of his/her understanding of the world and of him/her self. In a world in which rhetoric has become vicious and divisions exacerbated, the need for good listening grows large. Take time to tune in carefully to those around you. Hear them out. Make sure you’ve listened first. This requires a bit of emotional restraint for the listener. The pull toward persuading others to think as we do is strong in a societal environment like the one we have today, but the benefits of listening are many.
There’s a famous story in the New Testament about Mary and Martha when Jesus came to visit them at their home. Martha is busy doing good, trying to feed guests and offer proper hospitality. But it is Mary who Jesus commends for doing the best thing. “…Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught” (Luke 10:39). She focused in and listened deeply. Keep trying to listen deeply to those around you. It’s good for the soul.