Listening, carefully done, is vital to life. Most people don’t have a problem hearing, but do they really listen? It has often been said that we should listen, not to respond, but to understand. I think there are three arenas where we can apply that skill.

In my experience in Toastmasters, there is an emphasis on improving public speaking, which is important, but we often overlook the counterpart – public listening. There are multiple ways this skill is employed in a Toastmasters meeting. The evaluator listens in order to give specific feedback to the speaker to help them speak better. The general evaluator listens to the speech evaluator to give specific feedback to the evaluator to improve their evaluation. The grammarian listens for the use of good or bad grammar and the word of the day to help all participants improve. The ah counter listens for the use or absence of filler words and the timer listens and alerts speakers when their time is up. All these are important – we learn as we listen.

In our daily lives, listening is important for functioning. If we can’t hear sirens, horns, or traffic directions our travel will be hazardous. We need to listen to bosses and coworkers, family and friends, and instructions in public – like the ubiquitous announcements say in airports. These enable us to move through life without danger or waste of motion and help us function. We also can derive a lot of pleasure just walking out in nature by listening to the flora and fauna around us. If our ears are stopped up and distracted we may miss the pleasure of our world and the creatures with which we share it.

But most of all in our interpersonal relationships we need to take time to listen. We need to pause in our pontificating to ponder what others are saying and feeling. We may learn more from others than we ever can imagine. And we need to validate others’ feelings so that when the time comes we will benefit from them listening to us. This is vital for the community and building up the general welfare that is part of our heritage – so important that it is listed in the preamble to the Constitution. Sometimes it is as simple as taking a deep breath and pausing to let someone else speak.