Marie is a gracious, delightful, very alert 91-year-old who lives alone in her country home. Off the main roads country—the ancient dirt road passing in front of her home has a history dating back to the late 1700’s. She has nieces and nephews nearby, all part of her close-knit family.

In her younger years Marie was a nurse. She and her husband travelled widely and lived in several states, she’s an avid reader, and an accomplished amateur artist. Conversation topics are always interesting. Except for one challenge—she’s hard of hearing.

A favorite story she likes to tell on herself happened as she was checking her mailbox at the side of the road. Her nephew, his wife, and their young children were driving by and stopped to chat a few minutes one afternoon. After a brief conversation she asked where they were going. She heard the children say, “We’re going to bury the chickens.”

Oh, my! She thought. She knew they had pet chickens and seeing the flowers in the back of the pickup, thought to herself, it’s just like them to have a funeral for the pet chickens.

Concerned, she asked, “When did the chickens die?” Realizing they were all looking at her strangely, she asked, “What was it you said?”

They laughed and said almost in unison, “We’re going berry picking!”

Marie laughed with them and waved them on as they left—still laughing. She works hard to hear and even harder to be a good listener. There is a difference.

Stephen Covey says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” In that haste to reply before hearing everything that is being said, there is a huge gap for misunderstanding. How big that gap becomes depends on how hard we work on understanding.

Don’t assume

Although Marie was paying attention to things like knowing they had pet chickens and seeing the flowers, she drew a wrong conclusion. All the circumstances supported what she thought she heard. The difference between her and those of us who can hear is that she did not assume she knew what was said. When something doesn’t connect, ask. Pursue knowing.

Listen to understand

Our culture has become so fast-paced that it’s rare to have a conversation without being interrupted or cut off, sometimes mid-sentence. It’s so prevalent that talk shows where people talk over other each other are commonplace. It’s considered normal. But that kind of “deafness” is damaging to both the speaker and the hearer.

Proverbs teaches “He who answers a matter before he hears the facts, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13 AMP). This has the application of decision making but rests on the broader foundation of hearing first.

When we discover how to listen beyond the words we hear, or think we hear, and understand what is really being communicated, instead of sadly “burying chickens,” we could be happily eating berry cobbler.

Martha Hedge ©2015