By Laura Seymour
Dear Parents and Children,
A while back a study was done to determine how much time parents talk with their children. The study found that parents spent 12 minutes per day talking with their children and, of that, seven minutes was telling them what to do. There was no similar study on the amount of time spent listening, but a more important study would be one on the quality of the listening. “Shmiat haozen — attentiveness” is a crucial Jewish value for our lives today, especially with children. The Hebrew word “shmiat” comes from the word listen or hear, while “ozen” is the Hebrew for ear. Shmiat haozen literally means “a listening of the ear.” Listening goes beyond hearing — hearing is not a virtue, but listening involves understanding, evaluating, giving consideration, obeying and accepting. All of these acts can be virtues. When God says, “Shema Yisrael — Hear, O Israel,” the hearing is not meant to be a one time thing, but the “hearing” of God’s voice is supposed to change our actions and our identity daily. When we listen to others, we must try to be like God: to be compassionate and to understand. There may be limits to how much we can “hear” at any particular time, and there might be limits to how much others can “hear” us. However, we must strive to strengthen our listening ear in all our relationships.
Rabbi Judah ben Shalom said: If a poor person comes and pleads before another, that other does not listen to the poor one. If someone who is rich comes, the person listens to and receives the rich one at once. God does not act in such a manner. All are equal before God — women, slaves, rich and poor (Exodus Rabbah 21:4).
There are many questions for us to think and talk about with our children: Why would someone listen differently to a poor or rich person? What other differences in people would cause us to listen differently? And, how do you feel when someone who doesn’t listen to you? Do an experiment: Take a partner and one of you should talk about something you did that day. The other person should turn away, or look somewhere else. How did that make you feel? Now show how to listen in a way that feels good. Another “technique” is called active listening, which involves listening fully without talking and then repeating back what the person has said to see if you understand what they meant, not only heard the words that they said. Think about all of this and then promise yourself and your children that you will truly listen to them!
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping and Youth Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.