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In today’s world, we have gotten into the bad habit of hearing only to the point we want to listen.  All too often, instead of listening to what someone is saying, we are busy in our minds preparing that ‘perfect response’, or allowing our thoughts to wander off on something that is more important to us.

Here on the farm, not listening can be a dangerous, if not fatal decision.  As I walk among my cows, I listen to them.  A soft rumble, almost like a cat’s purr, means they are content.  A quiet lowing is an offer of comfort.  I high-pitched squeal means they are spoiled… Oh.  No.  That one means they want more to eat.  But snorting, woofing and low growls?  Look for a coyote, or some other form of danger.  They moan, which means they are lonely, sad or depressed.  A low keening means they are hurting.  We are also able to separate individual voices.  No, cows don’t all sound alike.  These sounds are all something you would expect, and can learn if you are around them long enough. 

But did you know that listening doesn’t just mean using your ears?  If you are truly listening, you are also using the rest of your senses.  I can listen with my eyes – Scratcher lowers her head just a notch or two, and has this facial expression that says, “Come love me.”  Suzie cannot crease her eyebrows or frown, but her face, and a certain tilt of her head will definitely tell you not to get any closer.  Body language can tell you they are shy, frightened or receptive.  And if a cow ever turns its back on you, trust me when I say that they aren’t happy and you had better steer clear of them. 

To tell if a child has a temperature, the first thing you do is place your hand or cheek on their forehead.  Instant thermometer.  I can always tell a difference in the feel of my cow.  Too hot, too cold.  Too fat, too thin.  Sometimes, a gentle touch is all it takes.  Even their hair tells me things I need to know.

I also listen with my heart.  The love I have for all my animals has me listening to them every day.  We can’t communicate in English, but sometimes the words of my heart speak louder, yet not a sound can be heard during that conversation.  Theirs speak, too. Without a doubt, all of the animals on the Plantation know that they are loved through care, scratches, petting, cooing, and a gentle smile that spreads from my mouth straight to my eyes and body language.

If I can listen to my cows with my ears, eyes, hands and heart, why is it that people cannot do the same?  Have you ever sat down with a friend who is in tears, and all you can think of is ‘How can I offer comfort’, instead of actually listening to their words to find out?  Are you looking at the floor?  Are you sitting across the room?  Are you organizing your thoughts to offer platitudes for the issue?  Then you are not really listening to them. 

It is time we start learning to really listen to each other.  When someone speaks, even if all they are saying is a simple ‘Good Morning’, look at them – in the eyes.  Hear the tone of voice.  Is it really a good morning?  Or do they seem distant, somehow?  Check out their body language and facial expressions.  If your friend has come to you sobbing, offer a hug, and sit with them, holding their hands (if they will let you), or offer a pat on the shoulder or back.  You may not have to touch them at all – sometimes just being there is comforting enough.  Clear your mind.  Really hear their words.  And when it is time for you to speak, then, and only then, formulate your thoughts according to what you heard before responding.  Softly.  Gently.  You don’t even have to offer an opinion.  Oftentimes, they don’t really want that anyway – they just need an opportunity to vent.  If you speak at all while they are talking, just offer a confirmation that you are listening.  An occasional ‘wow’, ‘oh, my’ or an ‘I understand’ doesn’t mean you are agreeing or disagreeing with them.  It just says that you are hearing them and are willing to listen.

The art of listening.  Is it a dying art?  Are we just really so busy we don’t have time to listen?  If you answer yes to that question, then maybe it is time to readjust your way of living.  Life is all about love.  And truly loving means being willing to listen.  With your ears, eyes, nose, mouth and all your heart.

I have to go.  I hear Scratcher calling me again for her daily dose of attention.