People hear what’s in their heads, not what you say.
For example, a salesman can say, “This is affordable.” However, it won’t make any difference if the person he’s trying to sell already believes they can’t afford it (and are willing to accept that).
He says, “It’s affordable.”
The customer thinks, “I can’t afford it.”
What happens? The salesman is talking financing, discounts, rates, and even monthly payments. Every move he makes, the customer countermoves: there’s always a reason that he can’t afford it.
Why? Because that’s what is in his head, so that’s what he listens to. He doesn’t listen to the salesman. Even if he could afford it. Even if he wants it. Even if it would be good for him. He can’t bring himself to “pull the trigger.”
Why? He hears what’s in his head, not what’s said.
Now that’s a straightforward, simplistic example. It doesn’t mention any persuasive “tricks” that salesmen sometimes try to use, and maybe the guy really can’t afford it. But, we’ve all had enough experience with trying to talk someone into something that they’ve convinced themselves they either can’t have or can’t do. They’re listening to what’s in their heads, not to what you are saying.
Here’s one: a teacher impresses on his students that they need to work ahead on a project in order to score well. But, a student is convinced she can be successful by starting much later. Explain away, Teacher. It does no good. Why? Well, you know.
You know what else? We all do the same thing. I don’t mean procrastinate. We all listen to what’s in our heads and not to what people say.
Take people you already have an opinion about. (Forget, for a minute, whether or not your opinion is justified.) They approach you and start talking. “Here we go,” you think. And, you begin planning your deflection.
See? You’re not listening. You’re thinking about how to respond while the person is talking. No matter what they say, your response is being preplanned: “Oh… well…” The world in your head is the world you hear. It’s really that simple.
One more. You’re reading the Bible. You read the word “we.” And you think, “Me.” You read the word “you.” And you think, “Me.”
Is it really? Could you be misreading that? Could it really all be about you?
See how this can get sticky? It’s true for all of us: people tend to hear what’s in their heads, not what you say.
Now, I suppose the way out of that is to ask questions. If we asked, “Am I hearing you correctly…?” to the person with whom we’re supposed to be conversing, we might become better listeners. If we asked it of the text, we might become better theologians.
But asking is such a pesky, humble, clarifying thing. And, we’re already pretty good at listening to ourselves.
Do we really want to listen to others that badly?