One of the most important things we can do in life is to spend time our family. To make sure the time is meaningful we need to learn to communicate effectively with family members. Good listening is essential to good communication. Good listeners often go far in life and usually make lots of friends along the way. And yet it is a skill that far too few of us ever master. Perhaps a statement made by Karl A. Menninger can benefit those who struggle to acquire this virtue. He said: "I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk, to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject. My attitude is: 'Tell me more!' This person is showing me his soul. It is a little dry and meager and full of grinding talk, just now, but presently he will begin to think, not just automatically to talk. He will show his true self. Then he will be wonderfully alive.”
Listening to others shows respect and helps create a close bond with others. A friend of mine had an experience with his young son that demonstrates the bond that often develops between those who listen closely to each other. Here is his experience in his own words.
"In the early days of my career my job caused me to travel a great deal. In order to continue building relationships with my children, I would often take one of them with me in my travels. On one such occasion my six-year-old, Mike, and I traveled from Springfield, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We talked about school and related topics as we drove along the interstate. I decided it would be a good time to teach my son about the creation of life. I pondered on the understanding he had about this sacred subject.
"I decided to test his knowledge and try to teach him some valuable lessons of life. I said, ‘Mike, have you noticed there is a difference between boys and girls?’ After thinking about it for a while, he said, ‘Yes, Dad. Girls are pretty and boys are ugly!’ Though I was tempted to chuckle, I remained serious, and tended to somewhat agree with him. I asked if he realized what it meant for his mother to be pregnant. ‘Yes, Dad. It means she is going to have another baby!’ I asked, ‘Well son, do you have any questions about that?’ He thought for a moment then asked, ‘Does everything Mom eats go down and hit the baby on top of the head?’ Again, I had to restrain my feelings to laugh. I explained that the baby was carried in a special place so that the food did not hit him in the head.
"For the next 45 minutes, we had a most interesting talk as we traveled toward our destination. Finally, as the conversation waned, I told my son how much I had enjoyed our talk together. Then being desirous to recap this experience, I asked, ‘Mike, what did you learn from our discussion today?’ I was anxious to hear him repeat some of the great knowledge I had imparted to him. He pondered for some time, then stood up in the seat of our old Volkswagen. He stepped over the console, put his arms around my neck and said, ‘I learned I love my Dad!’”
This experience demonstrates the truth of a principle taught by Richard Moss who said: “The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.” Love at home and in our communities often starts with listening to others respectfully.