Please Listen - Hayyey Sarah - 26 November 2016 / 25 Marheshvan 5777
Dec 2nd 2016

I have some bad habits.

On Thursday, I was in a meeting with Randy and had to check something on my phone. I indicated that I was following the conversation. When I closed the calendar on my phone, I made a suggestion to the group, which apparently had been made by someone else while I was looking at my schedule. I was only partially paying attention.

Occasionally, I’m on a cell phone conversation and I signal with my hand or nod to respond to someone in front of me. But I wasn’t really attentive to the conversation. Sometimes, I’m on a phone call while also checking something on my computer and the other person can hear the clicks on my keyboard. Every so often, I start to give advice when I wasn’t actually asked to do so.

Have you ever been in a conversation waiting for the other person to pause so that you can rush in with a comment or rejoinder, because you haven’t really been listening, just preparing your response? I’ve done that, too.

A few weeks ago, I spoke of the importance of seeing others and being seen. Today, I want to share some thoughts about hearing and listening. You are are all familiar with the Sh’ma and the importance of hearing. But many times we hear, but don’t really listen.

Wanda's dishwasher quit working so she called a repair service. Since she had to go to work, she told the repairman, "I'll leave the key under the mat. Fix the dishwasher, leave the bill on the counter, and I'll mail you a check.” She then added, "Don't worry about my bulldog, Spike. He won't bother you. But, whatever you do, do NOT, under ANY circumstances, talk to my parrot!" "I REPEAT, DO NOT TALK TO MY PARROT!!!”

When the repairman arrived at Wanda's apartment, he discovered the biggest, meanest looking bulldog he has ever seen. But, just as she had said, the dog just lay there on the carpet watching the repairman go about his work. The parrot, however, drove him nuts by yelling, cursing and name calling. Finally the repairman couldn't contain himself any longer and yelled, "Shut up, you stupid, ugly bird!" To which the parrot replied, "Get him, Spike!”

Have you ever felt the frustration of not being listened to or understood?

Even though most people believe themselves to be good listeners, you have probably felt that some conversations are just one way. Research indicates that humans generally listen at a 25 percent comprehension rate, so we are probably missing more of what is being said than we realize. This is because hearing is very different to listening. We listen at 125 to 250 words per minute, but think at 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute, meaning we might find our mind wandering at times. It’s even been known to happen during a sermon.

In the first aliyah of our Torah portion, a Hebrew word repeats six times. “If you will listen to me.” “Please listen to me.” “Abraham listened.” We are reading about negotiations to acquire land. Each person says, listen. But what is really going on? Try to listen to what is not being said. Avraham believes that God has promised him the Land. Yet he has to ask, bargain and pay Efron for the property. Ephron has the land and cave that this resident alien wants. If Avraham were a resident, he would have his own property. But why would a stranger want the land for burial? He understands that the situation is pressing, but doesn’t want to be pushed into a bad deal.

Are they really listening to the deeper concerns that are being expressed by the other? Every time one says “listen,” the Torah shows the subtle advancement of the negotiation. Listening is the key to many interactions, that’s why we are given two ears but only one mouth.

Prof. Avi Kluger of Hebrew University aggregated research on the value of listening. He discovered that

  • women are better listeners than men (and they notice more details);
  • listening reduces the likelihood of depression;
  • people who listen perform better in sales and as school principals.
  • if your boss is a good listener, there is less burn-out at work;
  • employees who feel they are being heard report greater job satisfaction (even more than the one who receives more compensation);
  • people who are perceived as listeners are also accepted as more trustworthy;
  • doctors who listen have greater patient satisfaction;
  • there is a very high degree of marital satisfaction when one feels that his/her spouse listens;
  • executives who listen are perceived as much stronger leaders.

A good listener creates benefits for the one who is heard and for the one who is listening. Listening is actually a spiritual act. If you give your full attention, you notice both the emotion and content conveyed by the speaker. You aren’t thinking what to say next and you aren’t evaluating what the person ‘should’ or ‘must’ do, or who is right, or what you would have done in that situation. Listening with focus and respect shows that we care. When we enter a conversation with the aim of understanding the other person, rather than being understood, our intention will be to listen.

When you visit mourners during shiva, the conversation shouldn’t be about you and your similar experiences. It should be about the deceased: What did she enjoy doing? How did they meet? What kind of work did he do? What was one of her big challenges? Ask about the life story of the person. If you listen, you may learn something and provide true consolation.

One day an old man was walking along a country lane with his dog and his mule. A speeding pick-up truck careened around the corner, knocking the man, his mule and his dog into the ditch. The man decided to sue the driver to recoup the cost of the damages. While the old man was on the stand, the counsel for the defense cross-examined him by asking a simple question: "I want you to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following question: “Did you or did you not say at the time of the accident that you were ‘perfectly fine’”?

The old man began, "Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road … " And the counsel for defense said, “Please, stop, sir. I asked you, tell me 'yes' or 'no', did you say you were 'perfectly fine' at the time of the accident?"

"Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road and … " The defense attorney turned to the judge. "Your honor," he said, "Would you please insist that he answer the question?" The judge said, "Well, he obviously wants to tell us something. Let him speak. Let’s listen.”

So the man said, "Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road and this truck came around the corner far too fast, knocked us into the ditch. The driver stopped, got out of his truck, saw my dog was badly injured, went back to his truck, got his rifle, and shot it. Then he saw that my mule had broken his leg, so he shot it. Then he said, 'How are you?' And I said, 'I'm perfectly fine.’"

Because Abraham listened, he made the deal, the Jewish people received the first part of the Land of Promise.