Friday, August 25, 2023

The Art of Listening

Silly season is (un)officially here. America is unique in many ways, including its painfully long election season. In most democratic countries, the election for the highest office in the land is no more than a few weeks. It can be at least a couple of years in the United States. It sometimes feels like about a decade of sitting in a dentist's chair! A significant milestone in the 2024 Presidential Election was the Republican Debate this week. I recognize that I am not qualified to weigh in on who won the debate or who is the best candidate (not necessarily the same). I will opine about the tenor of the dialogue from the debate. Many of the debate participants were basically attempting to talk over each other and shout down the others with well-rehearsed one-liners and zingers that were filled with ridicule and insult to each other. One element that was fairly absent from the debate was anyone listening to each other. The art of listening is an increasingly lost skill. Most people, even if they are listening, are not adequately paying attention to the other person and just formulating their own response. The Gaon of Vilna teaches us how to master the art of listening and its three components. Listening: Pay attention to what the person is saying without interrupting. Appropriate body language of nodding and making eye contact reflects that you are attempting to fully understand what the person is saying. Understanding: Ask follow-up questions to ensure you understand what the person is saying. These questions mustn't be challenging in any way but instead just an attempt to clarify and understand what the person may be saying. It might also be appropriate to respond with a few words indicating you have a keen understanding of what the person may be saying. Accepting: The third element may be the most difficult, especially if you strongly disagree with the other person. Accepting does not mean that you agree with another point of view. Instead, it means that you accept that this is his viewpoint and accept that you might not be aligned with your opinion. It's ok to disagree if it's done in a respectful environment. We must accept that in a diverse world, there are various ways to look at things and figure out a way to disagree in the arena of Derech Eretz. As we are in the month of Elul in preparation for the High Holidays, we are encouraged to mend fences with anyone we locked horns with over the year. Of course, the journey to reconciliation and leaking may take work. It may just start with being open to listening to others. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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