How should we relate to people whom we would like to think well of us?
We tend to think that it’s effective to act in ways that will make us stand out in the presence of such persons, to show off our intellectual or financial resources, or to spend a lot of money on clothing and outward appearances in general.
Yet none of that seems to be very effective.
People may think that we’re very impressive or well dressed.
But it will not necessarily follow that they will think well of us on a deeper level, that they will believe us to be kind or good people.
According to a questionnaire regarding romantic love, both men and women overwhelmingly listed “consideration for others” over looks or income as the reason for being drawn to a lover.
We love people who understand us and treat us well.
I think this holds true for every historical period and every country.
By listening carefully to what the other person says, we communicate that we are trying to understand him or her.
And we are signaling that we value the other person’s feelings.
People are happy just to have someone else listen seriously to their stories about their health problems or their personal situation, about something they have worked hard on or take pride in.
“She understands me,” or “He has concern for me,” they think, beginning to feel kindly and affectionately toward whoever has taken the trouble to listen to their stories.
The following happened when I was beginning a series of lectures on Buddhism.
An elderly lady came to me and said, “Please listen to me, sir.”
Then she proceeded to tell me about all of her troubles and sufferings.
She did it with such irrepressible energy that I did indeed listen earnestly to what she had to say.
“That must have been very hard on you.”
“So then what did you do?”
I didn’t just listen in silence, nodding every now and then.
From time to time I expressed my own reactions or asked about points that weren’t clear to me.
After a couple of hours, she seemed satisfied and tearfully thanked me:
“I’m so grateful for your good advice today, sir!”
“I haven’t actually given any,” I thought to myself.
But what I learned that day was that listening sincerely to what the other person has to say is much, much more valued by that other person than any advice I might offer from my side.
Human beings have a strong need to be understood.
That’s why, when they become close to someone, they would rather talk about themselves than listen to what the other person may have to say.
In the case of lovers, as well, at the beginning they try to listen to their partner out of consideration for his or her feelings, but as they become more and more intimate, they tend to ignore their lover’s needs and talk only about themselves.
Within the family—whether between husband and wife or parent and child—people tend to confront the other party with their feelings rather than listening carefully to the other’s concerns.
This often leads to friction and hard feelings between spouses or parents and children.
Even while living under the same roof, people may feel isolated and lonely and wish that family members would try to listen and understand.
Let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves how much we are listening to the other person’s story.
You can begin with very small things: “Are you okay?”
“How’s your work going?”
“What did you have for lunch yesterday?”
The other person will think, “She cares about me,” or “He’s really kind.”
His or her attitude toward you is sure to change for the better.