I have this friend with an extraordinary gift. I've known him for a few years now and every single time I spend time with him I am struck by his incredible ability to listen. He's the kind of person that when you talk to him, you know you have his complete attention. He's very detail-oriented and listens very carefully. He really listens.
In my experience, it's a rare thing to have a conversation with someone and come away from it knowing that that person cared more about what you were saying than about what he or she was about to say in response. This way of conversing takes on a whole new meaning--it's slower-paced and leaves any thought of "small talk" at the door. Most people (I think) are distracted by formulating their own response to what you are saying, even while you are talking. Most people, I think, listen so half-heartedly or maybe even so casually that their heart isn't even involved.
In someone less caring, this kind of listening would feel weird, but it totally fits his personality. It's not weird at all--it's refreshing and amazing. He's genuinely attentive and honest--a look-you-in-the-eye kinda guy.
I have come to admire that--I suppose because in certain situations, I am the shyest woman on the planet and too much eye-to-eye time sets me on edge to the point of blushing. It's more than a little unnerving for me. When I have a conversation with him, it's as if he see right past the words and looks at the heart of what I am saying. (And it's not just with me. It's the way he is with everyone.)
Choosing to make that kind of genuine connection with someone is so rare. It's something I would like to cultivate the ability to do more often (as difficult as that is for me) and something I would like to have more of in my life. (I think.)
I once heard someone else describe this kind of concern as "being more interested in the other person than they are in themselves". That's pretty darn interested.
It was really quiet in the car as we drove home from a Christmas party at the home of some new friends tonight and I was thinking about this. Do I listen to my children this way? Do I listen to my husband this way? My friends? My parents? Most of the time, I'm afraid the answer is no. Whatever the reason, I'm usually distracted and not fully enguaged. In a culture of cell-phone multi-tasking and faceless, spirit-less email, it's becoming all to easier to go thru life disenguaged in the lives of other people. I don't want that.
So, if I have a new year's goal, and if it's not too early to declare it...this is going to be it. To really listen more, even if it means speaking less.
The people in my life are too important to me for me to miss out on.