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Listening is a choice

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Jody Fuller
By Jody Fuller

There are some things I do not want to hear. I do not want to hear fingernails on a chalkboard. I do not want to hear Barney Frank singing Christmas carols. And, I do not want to hear Alabama fans talking smack after a big victory. For the most part, I don’t hear any of this, because I choose not to listen. You see, there is a big difference in hearing and listening. We have a choice.

I often tell people listening is important for three reasons: it’s the polite and courteous thing to do, you might learn something, and they might unintentionally say something funny. If you’re a politician, it can help you get elected, although, once elected, you’ll most likely forget everything you heard, but that’s a different story altogether. I’ve always been a decent listener, but in recent years, I’ve gotten better.

American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” While I’m sometimes guilty of this, my intent is usually good. I ask questions, so they know that I am listening and am genuinely concerned and interested.

Last week, I received a call from an old friend I’d not talked to in years. He lives a thousand miles from me. I assumed he’d butt dialed me, but that was not the case. He intentionally reached out to me, and I’m so thankful he did. We served together in Iraq. For each of us, it was deployment number two to that all-expense vacation paradise. He’s going through a rough stretch. He’s currently going through a divorce and suffering from PTSD. He’s really struggling and just needed to talk and for someone to listen. I’m grateful that I could be that someone.

Sometimes that’s all people need, so be there for those who reach out to you. They need to bend an ear, so don’t afraid to lend an ear; consider it a blessing. Through my similar struggles, I could relate to just about everything he said, so I chimed in from time to time to not only let him know that I was hearing him but that I was also listening to and latching onto his every word. I see my counselor at the VA every two to three weeks, and I can’t tell you how beneficial it has been to me.

It’s often been said that God speaks to those who take time to listen, and He listens to those who take time to pray. Some days, I find myself in prayer so much that I rarely take the time to say “amen.” It’s more like “to be continued.” The more I pray, the more He speaks to me. My mind, eyes, and ears are open to whatever He is trying to tell me. I feel it. I see it. I hear it. It’s real. It’s very real when you take the time to listen.

Per the Interwebs, hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences.

And sounds…many people hear nature, but they don’t listen. There’s nothing more pleasant and therapeutic than the sounds of nature and being away from the hustle and bustle of city life, even if it’s within the confines of our own back yard within the boundaries of the city. While we can sometimes hear the cars, trains, and sirens, we have the uncanny ability to tune all that out if we so desire. You see, we all have the skills to do just that. In most cases, hearing is inevitable; listening is a choice.

Jody Fuller is from Opelika. He is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com.