For a long time I struggled with empathy. My own selfishness and attitudes made it hard for me to set aside my personal agenda and take time to listen to others. If you want to speak well, you must first learn to listen well. I can hear alright, but listening is something I have always had to work at.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist teacher who wrote the book, Creating True Peace. In it he proposes that we are only able to listen to someone else when we are clear in our reason for doing so. To truly listen we must seek only to offer the opportunity to open their heart.
If you can keep that awareness and compassion alive in you, then you can sit and listen for one hour even if the other person expresses wrong perceptions, condemnation, and bitterness. You can continue to listen because you are protected by the nectar of compassion in your own heart.It is interesting that Buddhist speaks of the aspects of listening as it relates to the effort required of you, and your ability to perform the activity of listening. What do you do if, like me, you are just sometimes deaf and dumb? For me the ability to listen is many times a factor of the situations I find myself in or the circumstances of the conversation. My petty ego, temper, and ignorance means I blunder around like a blind man, even when my intentions and my heart are in the right place.
-- Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!" ). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.It is those days when nothing I do is working out and when all my attempts to speak plainly result in unintelligible mumbo-jumbo; those are the days I need my Savior to act on my behalf. I must fall upon His mercy and await His favor. Only then will my ears truly be opened.
-- Mark 7:34-35
It amazes how non-obvious the connection between these behaviors can be. If you want to be able to speak plainly, you must first open your ears. And in the case of this man, much like mine, only the Word is enough to open the ears and thereby loosen the tongue.