This article was written by yours truly, but originally published in the Westminster College Student Newspaper. The Holcad on Friday, October 23rd, 2015. You can read more of the paper at Holcad.org
Sometimes, when an authoritative figure takes attendance, people respond with “present” and I never really thought anything of it. Present, synonymous in this case for here, meaning you are physically there in the room at the time of questioning. But are you mentally there?
I go to all my classes. In fact, I’ve only skipped class twice and I’m pretty sure I cried both times because I felt bad. Heck, I feel guilty even being late to class. Physically present? Check. But if I had to count the number of times I wasn’t fully there, I’m certain I would have a failing attendance grade in more than a few of my classes throughout the years.
It’s not that I don’t care. It’s simply that sometimes, my mind is on approximately 142,000 other things—not the best scenario for a student trying to obtain a degree.
During my freshman year, I discovered I could slide through an entire class without saying a word if I was tired, upset, or simply not feeling it. During my sophomore year, I decided to combat the apparent apathy that had taken over in some of my courses. Before I was a shy freshman who didn’t think she had any opinions or thoughts worth sharing. Now, though, I was one year older and prepared to blow people’s minds with the vast worldly knowledge I had acquired in the past year. Not.
I didn’t turn into an extrovert. I will never not be exhausted by crowds of people. I simply made an effort to be fully present. I made it my goal to raise my hand, ask a question, or participate in some other fashion every day in every class.
I started to sit up straighter. I started to take better notes. I started to think on a deeper level that would require me to ask questions and be there and involve myself in my education. Yes, I know, it’s a challenge to be involved. It definitely takes more brain power to actively participate in the world around you, but without an added push, you’re doing nothing more than filling a seat in a classroom.
A few weeks ago, as I was the kind of delirious tired that makes you good for nothing but laughing at everything, I found myself in the midst of a long conversation. That’s when I realized I wasn’t being a good listener…like, at all.
I was hearing all the words that were spoken, but I wasn’t truly listening to the meaning they made. We were swapping stories, but I was just hearing syllables.
Sometimes, I think we all live in this kind of daze. Whether it’s a class you wish you didn’t have to take or a conversation you’re too tired to commit to, sometimes we simply aren’t actually present.
True listening requires active attention. It’s shutting off the distractions and listening, not with the intention to reply, but with the goal of understanding. It isn’t always about what you have to say in return.
After all, think of the last time you flew into your room looking for your best friend for a good venting session. You didn’t actually expect your roommate to respond with a 10-part plan to fix the situation. You just needed them to listen.
I think sometimes we try to take on too much. We try to fix the world’s problems and we think everything can be resolved if we just make and implement a strategy for success. Yeah. Right. You can’t solve the world’s issues if you’re too busy thinking of your own words instead of hearing what is coming out of the others mouth.
Slow down. Take a moment to hear what your friends are saying. Know that they don’t always need an answer. Sometimes they just need an ear.
Slow down. Raise your hand in class. I promise nobody is going to think you’re a nerd. This is college. We’re past that high school mentality.
Slow down. Be fully present in your moments. Take care of one another. Listen to what is being said. You may be completely helpless in resolving the problem. But you are completely powerful enough to let someone be genuinely heard.
Practice listening this week. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.