In Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The author declared that if he were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle he had learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this one.
In my opinion, this counsel has never been more timely than it is today. I believe that in our personal and business relationships we would benefit greatly by adopting this habit — if we actually learned to be good listeners. How often do we find ourselves focusing on our response while someone is speaking to us, instead of really listening and trying to understand what is being said?
Parents are often frustrated that their children won’t open up to them. Yet when their children have opened up in the past, they were immediately judged and lectured based on the parents’ perceptions, and without really comprehending the child’s concern.
And in the political climate of our day, with the two major political parties so completely at odds with each other, actually listening to gain understanding of an opposing position seems to be a lost art. We naturally ascribe the worst of intentions to everyone on the other side of the argument, while often holding to the conviction that our side can do no wrong.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a more civil discourse and actually find common ground, and perhaps even learn to disagree without being disagreeable? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could maintain relationships of trust and mutual respect with those of opposing views instead of viewing them as the enemy?
After the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, I found it interesting and encouraging to learn that he and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been good friends, even described as “best buddies.” With Justice Scalia being a staunch conservative and Justice Ginsburg a staunch liberal, I believe it would be fair to say they were rarely on the same side of controversial issues that came before the Supreme Court during the 22 years in which they served together. Yet they apparently managed to keep their intellectual disagreements from becoming personal. In my opinion, these two justices have shown an example worthy of our emulation.
Of course there’s nothing new about the principles of interpersonal relations. The Savior taught “Blessed are the peacemakers ... .” (Matthew 5:9) and “... that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matthew 5:22). James added some excellent specifics “… let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
Our nation’s founders understood the importance of applying correct principles to preserve our freedom. Benjamin Franklin declared that “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
In our personal relationships as well as in our political discourse, we would certainly do well to apply these time-tested principles of human relations. And I believe we would be pleased with the results if more people would strive to become good listeners and to truly seek first to understand and then to be understood.
Clark Beus is 1st counselor, West Richland Stake Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.