22 Apr The Unspoken Rule to Happiness and Success
“To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a special heart that listens.”
There is something liberating about being heard. It validates our existence and makes us feel that we matter; that our lives and inner worlds count.
I learned this lesson while directing a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in Canada. The program brought together teens from both sides of the conflict’s divide – teens who outright hated each other – to live under the same roof for a couple of weeks. We had Hamas sympathizers on the Palestinian side pitted against hardcore right wing Israelis on the other.
It was like trying to get a bulldog and a lion to sit down for a cup of tea.
Why did these teens participate in the program you ask? Not because they wanted to make peace but because they wanted to tell their story, blame the other side, and convince the other side of how awful, cruel and misguided they are. (A free round trip ticket to Canada didn’t hurt either).
A few days into it we’d start our dialogue sessions. This was a forum where every hot button topic was discussed and put on the table; stereotypes, politics, history, religion, war, terrorism. It got very personal. The only caveat, and we worked on this from day one, was that when somebody speaks everybody else must listen. This doesn’t mean shutting your mouth while thinking about how you want to respond, or dismissing the other person’s viewpoint in your mind, but actively listening with every ounce of your attention and fiber of your being.
Now get this: the more each side listened to one another – the closer they became. I noticed how after a few sessions the camper’s views softened, the tone of their voice mellowed and body language eased. All of a sudden, the Israeli’s were saying – “you know, we really understand your suffering and aggravation” and the Palestinians were talking about the Holocaust and Israel’s need for security.
Being heard transcends notions of right or wrong because it validates how you feel. Yes, the campers still disagreed with each other on politics and history, but by listening they silently acknowledged the other’s perspective and plight. And this was powerful.
“Listening,” it turns out, “is the beginning of peace.”
Larry King, the famous CNN talk show host was wildly successful because he was a great listener. His motto; “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening”
And Bill Clinton, the beloved former President accomplished much during his presidency because of his gifts as a listener. Everyone who meets Clinton comments that when you’re talking to him, its like you are the only person in the room. You are the only person that exists. He listens wholeheartedly and makes you feel special.
God gave us two ears but only one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we speak. Apply this lesson to your marriage and personal relationships and you’ll avoid a whole lot of conflict. (Still learning, don’t shoot the messenger 😉
But you can also apply this wisdom to your inner life. By meditating, for example, you are giving yourself the opportunity to listen to the universe and the echo of your soul. That’s why meditation is so therapeutic. It’s like acknowledging your own heartbeat and existence – the heartbeat of the spirit.
In the words of Rumi. “Listen! Clam up your mouth and be silent like an oyster shell, for that tongue of yours is the enemy of the soul, my friend. When the lips are silent, the heart has a hundred tongues.”