Two years ago, after watching a Kleenex commercial (of all things), I started thinking about talking and listening. I wrote a blog post called “Can We Talk?” recognizing that people like to talk about themselves and their interests. But, the “one anothers” of Scripture demonstrate that we should listen at least as much as we talk.
Have you seen the Kleenex commercials with the tag line “Let it out”? The man on the street with a box of tissue and big sofa can apparently get anyone to talk. This ad campaign has me thinking about communication and conversation.
My wife, Margaret, has always said that I can talk to anyone. In a way, she’s correct, because I’ve learned to ask people about themselves. People like to talk about themselves. They like to talk about their families and their past and their home town and their favorite sports team and their hobbies. So, as I learn about people, I simply ask them questions about the topics that they bring up. In other words, I let people talk about themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t ask people about themselves simply so that they will talk. I am genuinely interested. I like to hear people’s stories and I like to hear how God is working in their lives, and so I ask people about themselves. I’ve learned alot about people that they probably would not normally express simply by asking questions about them.
Occasionally, I get emails from people who read my blog. That’s a good thing. I put my email address on my sidebar several months ago because I wanted people to be able to communicate with me if they wanted to ask questions and make a statement without doing so publicly.You’ve seen some of those emails published here as “guest blog” posts. I always ask permission before I publish anyone’s email. When I get these emails and answer any questions that I can answer, I always ask the person if they would share something about themselves. Almost everyone who emails me responds to my question. Again, people like to talk about themselves.
I think that this is the key to the Kleenex ad campaign. Kleenex knows that people like to talk about themselves, and they are simply giving people an outlet to do just that. It works, by the way. Give people an opportunity, and they will gladly express themselves. Of course, someone has to be willing to listen and genuinely interested in hearing what the person has to say.
This type of communication and conversation is very important. For believers, most of the “one anothers” of Scripture are based on some type of communication. In order to consider one another, stir up one another to love and good works, encourage one another, submit to one another, etc. we must be willing to listen to what one another has to say. Perhaps “listen to one another” is the foundational unspoken “one another” of Scripture. But, I think, “listen to one another” is actually assumed in “love one another”. If we love one another, we will want to hear what the other person thinks, feels, dreams, experiences, believes, fears, etc.
But, this is where the rub comes. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. But, who is willing to suppress their own desire in order to allow another person to talk about themselves? You see, listening to one another actually goes against human nature. We like to talk about ourselves; we don’t automatically like to listen to other people talk about themselves. We like to control the conversation; we don’t necessarily like to listen to other people talk. We like to choose the categories and topics; we don’t necessarily like for other people to drift into “taboo” areas.
In reality, we are less like the guy in the Kleenex commercial, and more like Mike Myers’ character Linda Richman in the Saturday Night Live skit “Coffee Talk”. Linda liked to control the conversation – which usually revolved around Barbara Streisand, her favorite person. It didn’t matter who was the guest on Linda’s fake talk show, they always talked about Linda’s interests. Even when Linda got too emotional and couldn’t talk, she wanted to control the conversation by offering a topic. If you’re too young to have seen this skit, or if you don’t remember it, trust me, it was good, like buttah.
I think this may help explain why many relationships are rather shallow. Everyone wants to talk about themselves, but few are willing to listen. Also, I think this explains why unbelievers do not want to talk to Christians. When a Christian says to an unbeliever, “Can we talk?” the unbeliever knows that the Christian really means, “I want to tell you why you’re wrong and what you should believe”. In fact, I think many people have learned the correct answers to certain questions just in case a Christians decides to “talk” to them. Some of these people probably even think they are Christians because they know these correct answers. But, since so few people are willing to listen, those people may have never truly expressed themselves and their own beliefs.
Can we consider others better than ourselves and humble ourselves in order to listen instead of talk? I’m certainly not perfect in this area, and often find myself trying to control a conversation. But, thinking through things like this help me to remember to God values people, and I should as well. God listens to my prayers, and I should be willing to listen to other people too.
You’ll have to excuse me. I’m a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic…