There is a famous parable called the “Allegory of the long spoons”. It is an illustration of the difference between heaven and hell. In this parable, there are two small rooms. The first room is hell. There is a table with the most delicious food set in the middle of it. Unfortunately, the table is so big that the diners are all pushed up against the walls of the room. The only way they can reach the food is by using long spoons they have been given. Unfortunately, the spoons are so long, and the food so far in the middle of the table, that every time they try to feed themselves, they hit someone else and drop the food on the table. Everyone ends up bruised and hungry.
The second room represents heaven. It has the same setup as hell: big table, long spoons, with the diners pushed up against the walls. However, in heaven the diners use their long spoons to feed not themselves but others across the table, and everyone ends up satisfied.
The allegory of the long spoons teaches us that heaven or hell can actually exist in real life. Which one we live in simply depends on whether we all act selfishly, or whether we cooperate to satisfy everyone’s needs.
But dining rooms aren’t the only places where human behavior can be studied. There is a very common form of human interaction where the difference between heaven and hell plays out every day. Hell is where everyone talks at the same time. Heaven is where people take turns to listen.
You see, in the heavenly dining room, the diners don’t just take turns eating. They work together to satisfy each other’s hunger. How many hellish meetings, conversations, or electronic exchanges have you experienced where people just try to shout past each other? Purgatory isn’t that much better either. There’s a lot of talking, but nothing ever gets resolved. When was the last time you felt satisfied, you felt heard after a conversation? In order for real results to happen, people have to perform actual work to make others feel heard.
The quality of our conversations is entirely up to us. This in turn directly affects our ability to live and work with each other. We must not only have the confidence to be patient and wait our turn to speak. We must deliberately and skillfully listen so others feel heard, and we must do it at the same table. Let’s all get to work and learn more about listening.