Martin Buber, a twentieth-century existential philosopher and theologian said that” he could never hold a significant conversation with another person until he had heard the other person’s life story.” The reason behind his statement is that trust and understanding of others requires listening as a way to make meaningful connections. Listening needs to come first and immediately among people who are interacting. We need the experience of listening to know that we are not alone in the world. Listening allows us to form relationships and communities that challenge and support us as individuals.
Think about the radical nature of this view of the importance of listening! It changes much of the behavior we bring to situations we encounter in our lives. What happens when we meet others and we set ourselves the task of listening before we start to talk? After introductions and pleasantries what occurs if we ask a question of welcome and forego a statement about ourselves. Likely our interactions take on a different character that structures the time together around sharing.
It may seem a bit daunting at first. It’s not, however, a way of “psychologizing” interactions and relationships. It is a way of finding your freedom to “be yourself” by encouraging another to talk while you listen with attention, respect and lively curiosity.
Approaching interactions as a mutual invitation to experience the opportunity to listen and to speak clears the way for each person to respond and to ask clarifying questions. Time for conversation whether long or short happens naturally and easily, but, it starts with listening.