There is also a grace of kind listening, as well as a grace of kind speaking. Some men listen with an abstracted air, which shows that their thoughts are elsewhere. Or they seem to listen, but by wide answers and irrelevant questions show that they have been occupied with their own thoughts, as being more interesting, at least in their own estimation, than what you have been saying. Some listen with a kind of importunate ferocity, which makes you feel, that you are being put upon your trial, and that your auditor expects beforehand that you are going to tell him a lie, or to be inaccurate, or to say something which he will disapprove, and that you must mind your expressions. Some interrupt, and will not hear you to the end. Some hear you to the end, and then forthwith begin to talk to you about a similar experience which has be fallen themselves, making your case only an illustration of their own. Some, meaning to be kind, listen with such a determined, lively, violent attention, that you are at once made uncomfortable, and the charm of conversation is at an end. Many persons, whose manners will stand the test of speaking, break down under the trial of listening. But all these things should be brought under the sweet influences of religion. Kind listening is often an act of the most delicate interior mortification, and is a great assistance towards kind speaking.
One of the curses of teaching middle school is multi-tasking one must do during certain times when a student is trying hard to clarify something that happened in class — homework, a proofreading trick, a comprehension check, or any number of little things that might require some additional explanation. And these moments come, often enough, as I’m standing at the door, supervising students as they change classes. Hardly the time to be able to listen kindly.
I once had a young lady terribly upset — unbeknownst to me — because of this. She felt I was never listening to her, that I never had time for her questions. She was a most studious, hardworking girl. It took a while to work out, but I learned, again, the value of kind listening.
The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.