Rayford, a twenty-six-year-old of Matabele descent, worked as an administrator for a local company. He was the only child of parents high in the political chain. Although English was Rayford’s second language, I was impressed by his fluency and grasp of nuance and idiom—American and British. Nevertheless, I constantly found myself interrupting or finishing his sentences. He would calmly wait until I finished before continuing, apparently accepting my words as enhancements to his own. My intrusions would have been subtle in the United States, where interruption is a national priority, but in this conversation they stuck out like zebra stripes. Each interjection embarrassed me, but the habit proved difficult to break. “The African understands patience,” he said. “We were willing to take time to get our country back. Speed is not characteristic of Africans, but tenacity is.…Whites will never teach us how to hurry. Slow is what we can teach them.”
Going slowly through life is looked upon as lazy in the West, but it was clear that there was a lot to be said from slowing down and taking time. One important thing is to slow life down enough to listen to others.
We have two ears and one mouth and should learn to use them according to that same ratio. With most adults they have already made up their minds and are on one bandwagon or the other. When you speak with them they are not listening, they are searching their memories for the next fact to dazzle you with to try and get you round to their way of thinking. The fact is that the other person is exactly the same and so little progress is made when two entrenched minds collide.
Minds are like parachutes – they work best when they are open. Sadly, nowadays, it is primarily children who haven’t quite made their minds up. Everyone else either thinks ‘My way or the highway’ or just doesn’t give a shit about what you’ve got to say anyway.
Looking back, it is really all about listening isn’t it? If we slow life down and listen to what the other person says with a clear mind I am willing to bet that 80% of the miscommunication in any discussion at any level will disappear.
A clear mind is much easier to attain when you have adequate time. Not listening properly was one of my main faults, even though I got paid big bucks. The only thing I can figure out is that I had selective listening.
I personally believe that it will be a lifelong pursuit for me to be an excellent listener. Something I really want to be. I want to be like Rayford when it comes to listening.