Why We Should Listen and Try to Learn from Everyone!
Today I want to share with you one of my strongest philosophies that I feel far too few people actually heed in their own lives. This philosophy is one that I practice every single day. It has benefited me more than I could ever hope for, and sometimes in surprising ways I never thought possible had I not given it a chance. My philosophy is this:
Listen to others with an open mind and a kind heart, and seek knowledge from everyone, including those both above and below you.
I think this philosophy of mine tends to go against the grain a bit as the more commonly given advice is to seek people you look up to and learn from them. While that advice is great and I heartily agree there is a great deal to be learned from those we admire and respect, I also argue we have a great deal to learn from those we perhaps consider below us due to their particular lifestyle, position, or actions. Perhaps that could be someone in a formal hierarchy who is lower in the chain of command, or someone that lives in a manner we find immoral or whose actions we cannot find respect for. Either way, I think it’s important to always to have an open mind and open heart and be receptive of life’s lessons no matter what direction they are coming from.
The Resistance Against Open-Mindedness
I think there tends to be a lot of resistance to this. In a professional work setting, I find it rare that someone in a position higher on the ladder is receptive to the thoughts of their subordinates, and in some cases, they even abuse this authority and develop dangerous egos that become a nuisance to their teams and a self-perpetuated hindrance to their own development. In a personal setting, it’s not uncommon to discount the thoughts or feelings of someone we feel is below us. Whether it’s the brazen new intern, a homeless addict, or a corrupt and immoral individual who behavior we find intolerable… can we really learn from them??
Taking the Chance to Learn
I beg to say we can learn a lot, and I know I certainly have. Sometimes the problem is that we’re looking for the wrong type of knowledge. We’re looking to learn what types of things we SHOULD DO to be more like the other person we have respect for. Perhaps we think someone is intelligent and we want to follow their ways because then we can appear intelligent just like they are.
That is basic human nature, to try to emulate those we look up to. Often though, there is another important question we forgot to ask ourselves. What can we learn from this person that we SHOULD NOT DO? What we should do, and what we should not do… both of these questions apply to those both above and below us! By listening to everyone with an open heart and an open mind, the lessons we can learn are endless.
There are Lessons Waiting for Us Everywhere
I personally have been continually surprised over the years by some of the great lessons I’ve learned from the most unexpected places over the years, just by being open-minded and genuinely curious in all types of people.
One unique thing about people is that deep down, we all love to talk about ourselves. Yes, we’re taught to be humble and we’re advised it’s in good manners to avoid talking about ourselves, but if we’re actually prompted by others genuinely curious for us to talk about ourselves, we open up like a can of worms.
Ask someone about something they are passionate about or interested in and next thing you know they are talking a mile a minute with an excitement in their voice that turns even the most socially awkward individual into a charismatic conversationalist. We often get a similar reaction when we just ask people about their lives in a more general sense. Showing a genuine interest in someone’s life, what they do, what they want to do, how they feel about topics, it’s all you need to dive into a great well of potential knowledge and lessons to be learned. You never know what you may learn.
What Do You Have to Lose?
Which brings me to my next point that many people don’t consider at all. What is the harm in just listening? People often convince themselves so surely they can’t benefit from talking or listening to a certain person that they refuse to talk or listen to them at all!
When it comes down to it, there really is no harm in listening. Just because you listen or talk to someone does NOT mean you need to take their word or ideas as the gospel truth. Far from it! We listen openly to others, then we use our own free will and intellect to either take heed to their words or to simply just ignore it. That is the beauty of it all.
I know there are lots of times I listen to someone talk and by the end of it I just think to myself, “Wow, that person has a truly terrible idea or way of thinking,” so I simply choose not to take heed to his words or thoughts. It’s as simple as that. What matters though is that I took the time to seek knowledge from this person, I listened to them very openly, and I respected their stance whether I agreed with it or not. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to make our own choices and we do well by taking in as much source of information as possible.
Lessons from Anyone
For every terrible idea or reprehensible way of thought I’ve heard over the years, I have also found scattered within some truly great ideas or innovative ways of thought. You never know when or who it will come from, but that is why I find it just so valuable to show interest in what can be learned from anyone, no matter who they are.
I’ve had homeless people, addicts, and criminals share really deep lessons on life and happiness (stuff that is better than any motivational poster or quote you can find). Interns have taught me a trick or two just because I asked them for their help when everyone else thought they were just the “new dumb intern”. Crotchety older folks share some of the greatest wisdom of all if you just lend an ear to listen to them a bit. Lessons will come from the most unexpected sources, but you have to make an effort to look in those unexpected places. You won’t find the treasure you’re already standing on if you’re only looking up for it to fall from the sky.
An Example of a Lesson Learned
To wrap this up with a fairly recent anecdotal story, I clearly remember an unexpected lesson I learned from an intern that shadowed me one day at a previous job. Everyone else on my team always made fun of the poor guy and complained what an annoyance he was. I took a different approach. I went into and was truly curious to learn about him and his background.
Halfway through the day, I was trying to figure something out in Microsoft Excel that I knew you could do but I couldn’t quite get it to work right since I haven’t done it before. I’m a pretty advanced Excel user, but this was an advanced technique I never had an opportunity to try till now.
Stuck, I turned to the intern and asked him if he had any ideas even though he told me earlier in the day he really didn’t understand how to use the program well yet. I thought at the least we might be able to reason something logical out together.
Imagine my surprise when he told me exactly what to do! I was blown away… this was a very advanced technique that not even an intermediate user would likely know. More surprising though was his answer when I asked him how he knew what to do. He said he had shadowed a boss at a previous company he interned with and he oversaw that boss using the technique I was trying to use. He recalled it and was able to share it with me. A perfect example of how we truly can learn things in the most unexpected ways!
Listening and Learning
All and all, I hope you’ll take this philosophy to heart and begin to seek knowledge from not only those above you but from those all around you. Show a genuine curiosity in people, seek the lessons or wisdom they may be able to share with you and just keep an open heart and mind.
There’s no harm in showing a person respect by genuinely listening to them, and if after listening we decide their words are of no value, we simply agree to disagree and move on with our lives. That is the beauty and freedom of the philosophy. You’ll find that every once in a while, you’ll learn something amazingly brilliant or eye-opening from the most unexpected source. That my friends is a wonderful thing.
– Mr. Happy Work