What’s not to love about the holiday season? While I’m definitely against endlessly going on with “Merry Christmas” daily since December 1st (you women are crazy), I am definitely down for good food, some down time, some family time and the cheer that just seems to come with this time of year.
Want to know what my favorite part of the holiday season is? The kitchen table.
And no, not just for the yummy food. I love sitting back each year listening to the conversations to be had. And it’s here I bring about the wisdom of listening:
Listening, Really Listening
I was always the shy kid growing up. My addition to the kitchen conversation (and my goal) was to make everyone laugh. If I did that once, I’ve succeeded. These days I’m forced to be the one leading the conversation, instructing people what to do most of the time in my job. That’s why I still love the holiday table. I just sit back and listen to everyone else’s conversations. No, I’m not grumpy or disinterested, quite the opposite in fact.
You get to hear about where people are in their lives, what’s happened to them in the past year, what they’re looking forward to in the New Year and other amusing stories. The only way to get to know someone is to listen to them talk about themselves and their lives. So I conclude my best addition in being more involved and tying the bonds stronger is to listen.
Now, obviously this concept of listening, daily goes far beyond this holiday season. For this, again, I consult the wisdom of the Hagakure:
“When you are listening to the stories of accomplished men and the like, you should listen with deep sincerity, even if it’s something you about which you already know. If in listening to the same thing ten or twenty times it happens that you come to an expected understanding, that moment will be very special. Within the tedious talk of old folks are their meritorious deeds.”
Perhaps more important is from the same book: The art of getting through to a person so they can listen and hear you:
“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leave-taking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults. This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”
There are a few people who come at me like this. I tend to keep them close in my life. The best friends are the ones that are straight with you, even about the hard topics, but know how best to put it. No one likes a brash person.
When I am speaking with someone who I care about such subjects I do my best to keep the above Hagakure selection in mind. That’s when I find people listen to me.
Teach To Learn
I firmly believe the single best way to learn is to teach. HUH? How does that make any sense? Well, think of it like this: someone out there knows more than I do, so I go to that guy or gal to learn from. In turn I teach it to someone who may know less on the subject than I do. It is by far the best way to make something stick. For when a person gives you the puzzled “what the hell did he just say?” look, you find interesting ways of explaining the same thing. Teaching is witnessing another person listen. In learning how people listen best you learn a great deal about a person and your own abilities.
One of my favorite songs: Water Pistol Man by Spearhead (Michael Franti is an epic lyricist) said this:
“…but my friend Billy told me that sometimes/ it takes a grown man a long time to learn/ just what it takes a child a night to learn/ and my son proved his words”
I look forward to that. I look forward to the dinner conversations. And I always look forward to my friends (and strangers) that can tell me things about me I may not have realized or known. Funny thing is that the wisdom may come at the most random of times. So I’m really listening, daily.
And sometimes when my people aren’t around, I turn to music such as this: