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Faithful Listening: A Gift of Yourself

Published December 16, 2020

By Samya Ali

Many parents want to improve their communication with their teenage children. As general guidelines, parents should always ensure that channels of communication stay open, that they focus more on positives than negatives during conversations with their teens, and that they make effort to create opportunities to have conversations that create connection, affection, and simple, positive interaction. Another important point, to make sure that your teen feels comfortable confiding in you, is to affirm their emotional experience while giving advice, rather than undermining what they feel. Below are two scripts between a teenage girl and her mother. The first one involves a mother who undermines and negates the daughter’s feelings, responding to everything the daughter says with a dismissive platitude; the second one involves a mother who affirms her daughter’s feelings while helping her put the experience in a broader perspective and find solutions. The second approach brings the mother and daughter closer together while the first one drives a wedge between them.

Script #1

Teenage girl: Mom, I’m really depressed cause a bunch of girls got together over the weekend to hang out and I wasn’t invited. I just don’t get it cause I’m friends with some of them and I’m sure they would have suggested inviting me. It makes me think that some of them must hate me or someone said something that made them all want to exclude me….but I’m really bummed about it and feel left out and disliked.

Mom: What’s the difference, you’ll be going off to college next year and won’t see any of them again. Everybody gets excluded sometime and it’s not worth getting all worked up about.

Teenage girl: Yeah but I’m going to feel embarrassed when I see these girls tomorrow in school.

Mom: No, you won’t. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed.

Teenage girl: But two of them are my best friends. And now I have a bad feeling toward them.

Mom: Think about something else, like going to grandma’s house next week, insha’Allah.

Teenage girl: You just don’t understand what’s it’s like!

Mom: Yes, I do, nobody is more understanding than me! But we have to move on in our lives, nothing is so important in high school that you have to get bent out of shape.

Teenage girl: My friends are really important to me…I’d be so unhappy if I didn’t have them to hang out with and go through things with.

Mom: So, get new friends and stop complaining! In fact, try cleaning up your room…it’s a disgusting mess. That’ll take your mind off this silly thing.

Teenage girl: You don’t understand anything. Leave me alone.

Script #2

Teenage girl: Mom, I’m really depressed cause a bunch of girls got together over the weekend to hang out and I wasn’t invited. I just don’t get it cause I’m friends with some of them and I’m sure they would have suggested inviting me. It makes me think that some of them must hate me or someone said something that made them all want to exclude me….but I’m really bummed about it and feel left out and disliked.

Mom: I know what you mean. It does hurt when you feel excluded. But maybe it wasn’t intentional. Couldn’t you just ask one of them how come you weren’t invited?

Teenage girl: Yeah but I’m going to feel embarrassed to ask.

Mom: Ask one of the girls who you consider a good friend. If she really is a good friend to you, she’ll answer you honestly and she’ll do it in a way that doesn’t make you feel bad, insha’Allah.

Teenage girl: Well two of them are my best friends. But now I have a bad feeling toward them.

Mom: You might feel like they turned their backs on you. But you shouldn’t presume that. There may be some reason why they didn’t say anything to you. Maybe the girl whose house they went to is jealous of you or something like that and your two friends weren’t sure if they should say something to you. But if you bring it up, they might even welcome a discussion about it. It’s possible they are feeling badly that you were left out.

Teenage girl: Mom, you always have good ideas that help me figure things out.

Mom: I try to be understanding of your feelings. I know it’s tough being a teenager and I remember how hard it is sometimes to figure things out. Honey, I’m always available whenever you need to talk. I’m your greatest supporter and always willing to listen and help!

Teenage girl: You’re right, I should just ask my friends in a straightforward way why I wasn’t invited. My friends are really important to me…I’d be so unhappy if I didn’t have them to hang out with and go through things with.

Mom: If they’re true friends, and you honestly and sincerely ask them to help you understand this situation, it will only bring you closer together.

Teenage girl: Thanks Mom, I feel so much better.

An adage about listening imparts a powerful lesson: love to listen, listen to love. Consider what the Prophet (s) said: “Part and parcel of a believer’s morals and character is excellence when he speaks, excellence in listening when spoken to, a cheerful welcoming face when he meets someone, and fulfilling a promise if he promises” (Al-Daylami). Excellence in listening is listening in a way that leads to sensitivity to, and understanding of, another person’s feelings, thoughts, and experience.

Impediments to Effective Listening

When practicing effective listening, it is important to avoid the pitfalls of poor listening. The following are impediments to effective listening:

  • Feeling impatient; this is often connected to being preoccupied with other matters or being stressed or anxious and unable to relax enough to really listen.
  • Talking excessively; this seriously limits opportunities to empathize with, learn from, and/or honor others by listening to them. As a start, follow the very wise advice of the Prophet’s companion, Abdullah ibn Masood: “Allah SWT created us with one mouth and two ears, so we can listen twice as much as we speak!”
  • Feeling self-important; this is the tendency to think that what we have to say is more important than what the other person has to say.
  • Having preconceived notions or biases about the speaker, his/her opinion, or the topic brought up. This actually distorts how you receive what is being said. Hearing what you expect to hear or want to hear is known as “selective listening” and this compromises one’s ability to participate in genuine and mutually satisfying communication.
  • Judging what is said according to simplified categories such like/don’t like, agree/don’t agree.
Observations About the Gift of Good Listening.

Listening to another person, listening really attentively, is like giving a gift of yourself. It shows your willingness to see and feel life through the other person’s experience, if just for a moment. The Prophet (s) was the greatest listener. In fact, there were those who mocked him for this trait. “And among them are men who hurt the Prophet and say, ‘he is (all) ear.’ Say: ‘He listens to what is best for you; he believes in Allah, has faith in believers and is a mercy to those of you who believe…’” (Qur’an9:61). The Prophet’s companion, Anas (r) said, “Part and parcel of marooa his for a brother (or sister) to listen silently to his brother (or sister) when they speak” (Al-Tareekh by Al-Khateeb). Marooah is a comprehensive word in Arabic whose meaning includes intelligence, power, bravery, generosity and honor. When we listen in silence to another person, what we are doing is offering them a purity of attention. Practicing silence, whether when listening to someone, or at any other time, is profoundly beneficial. But being really silent is unfamiliar to many people. Yet, the blessings found in practicing silence are many. The Prophet (s) said, “Indeed silence is wisdom but very few practice it” (Al-Bayhaqi and Ibn Hibban). He also said, “Whoever is pleased to be whole and pure, let him practice silence”(Ibn Abi Al-Dunya and Al-Bayhaqi). In fact, Jaber ibn Sumarah, a companion of the Prophet, reported, “I used to accompany the Prophet (s) and he was silent most of the time” (Ahmad and at-Tabarani).

It is only in silence that we can take into account the speaker’s tone of voice, body language, facial expression, and attitude. But listening in silence includes silencing the incessant inner chatterer in the mind. This internal monologue is often quick to judge others. In order to genuinely connect with another person, we have to suspend judgement long enough to hear what is being said and try to understand where the speaker is coming from. The purpose of communication is to connect and understand. Many people listen half-consciously or pretend to listen while being distracted by their own thoughts.

When we listen attentively, with good faith, we are ensuring the following:

  • Encouraging and open and honest sharing of ideas, feelings, and viewpoints
  • Having a demeanor that conveys that you are interested in what the speaker has to say
  • Listening as if there is nothing more important at that time
  • Acknowledging in a deep way that you care about what they have to say, about their need, or problem, or viewpoint
  • Showing willingness to enter the world of the speaker, to experience their message from their point of view

 

If we review the two scripts above, in the first one, the mother fails in each of the points just listed. In the second script, the mother exemplifies each of the points. Listening in this way is compassionate and caring. It facilitates a genuine understanding of the speaker and what they are trying to communicate, and it allows for a thoughtful and heartful response to their viewpoint, their need, their humanness. Being able to hear is a blessing. Being willing to really listen is a way of being thankful to Allah SWT for all that He bestows.

“It is Allah who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers while you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and hearts that you may give thanks” (Qur’an 16:78).

Samya AliAuthor Samya Ali converted to Islam in 1980 and she is a free-lance writer.

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