Simon Pettit was a good friend because he cared about those he was with; he was not always trying to impose his own agenda. Let’s consider this a bit further.
Have you noticed how, when meeting someone for the first time, they often spend the whole meeting telling you about themselves? They may never ask you one question to learn something about you. They can appear totally self-absorbed and self-centred. They seem to count themselves more significant than others.
Or, again, if you are speaking to someone do you ever feel their attention is not really with you? Their eyes may be wandering, looking over your shoulder to see what is going on behind you. Or that fixed, glazed, slightly staring look which tells you their mind is somewhere else.
Writing to the Philippians Paul exhorts his readers (and us) to humbly count others as more significant than ourselves. We are to ‘look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others’ (Phil 2:4). To respond positively to this exhortation we must set the example to others and be prepared to listen with focussed attention on the speaker. This may take conscious effort at first but it is a skill well worth developing.
Who would you prefer to have as a friend? Someone who is very self-centred, or someone like Simon?
Why are people so self centred? Those who talk a lot may do so for a variety of reasons: Self-centredness? Arrogance? These may sometimes be true but I believe that for many there is a deeper reason – insecurity. To listen to someone else’s views requires a vulnerability that your views may be challenged. So, if I talk about myself or my views I am keeping a protective zone around me, stopping someone else getting too close.
This series is about listening so I won’t dwell on this, but if you are someone who feels insecure let me point you to an acronym that Rick Warren uses – SPEAK. He suggests it is a good way to open up a conversation.
- Story. Ask people to tell you their story
- Passion. “What is it that really interests you, that you feel passionate about?”
- Encouragement. Encourage them in something to do with their passion
- Assist. “What can I do to help you?”
- Know. “What do I know/you know that we can share and help each other?”
This should not be seen as a rigid formula but as an internal checklist when you are with someone.
Personally I am always fascinated about other people’s stories and so ask many questions. People are so interesting! But beware: in this approach there can be a pitfall. I remember talking to someone who was homeless and asked him several questions about himself. After a short time he challenged me: ‘Are you from the police or something?’ I was dismayed. My attempt at being friendly had been interpreted in exactly the reverse way. So be cautious about how you ask questions!
Next time we shall begin to look at some of the ways in which we can listen – with our ears, with our eyes and with our mouths.