I think I am getting a little better at listening. It’s about time, now that I am in my very late seventies. My lifelong, natural tendency has been to talk when I should have been listening. Some of my outspoken friends back in the Brazil years used to call me Yakking Jack. I admit, I did yak a lot—mostly stories, but also opinions, ideas and feelings. Being honest, open and transparent with others was not a problem. I was the opposite of the Silent Sam whom no one knew or understood.
The problem was, of course, that my natural tendency to talk didn’t give other people a chance to express their feelings, ideas and opinions, or tell their stories. I struggled with my impatient tendency to rush conversations when I figured I knew what the other person was trying to say. And lots of times I was mentally preparing my response while the other person was still talking.
Fortunately, God surrounded me with people who helped me to see my problem. Not just those who called me Yakking Jack, but more loving people like my wife who used various ways to help me tone down and practice silence at appropriate times. I owe a lot to her, so do those who wanted speak instead of listen to me.
And at times God spoke to me directly, usually from some lines from His Word, like “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” Proverbs 18:13. or “You must all be quick to listen, and slow to speak.” James 1:19. And, down deep, my inner Voice said, “Carefully listening to what other people have to say shows them sincere respect, not listening shows disrespect.”
It was not that I could not listen. No, I listened very carefully when someone expressed an idea that was new to me. Even now I remember startling ideas I heard, but not the names and faces of those who told me.
When, after more than twenty years of working in Brazil we returned to live in Canada, I had developed some good listening skills. Although listening still didn’t come automatically, I did know how to decide to listen deliberately. In the first few months after I was appointed as what is now called President of Wycliffe Canada, I grabbed myself by the scruff of the neck and set myself down to listen intensively.
I had twenty-minute-long individual interviews with every Wycliffe office staff person and Wycliffe member who came through the office. I picked their brains for ideas and recommendations on what changes or improvements should be made in their own assignment, in their department, in Wycliffe Canada, and in Wycliffe worldwide. Jo kept meticulous details of every idea. The first sixty changes that our new administration made in that first term of office were gleaned from those notes.
Now, as a writer, I have plenty of opportunity to tell my stories and share my ideas. I can afford to be quiet in conversations and listen to the ebb and flow of ideas and stories all around me.
Maybe it’s advancing age, maybe it’s belated wisdom, maybe it’s self-delusion, but I do think I’m listening more and not talking nearly as much as I used to. I’ll ask my wife what she thinks about this. Another opportunity to listen.
Hmm, I just did. It’s probably option three. She was joking. I hope.