Priorities in life are different for different people. Women especially young ones tend to value relationships over career path. Women who are mothers sometimes feel challenged between the priorities allotted to children, partner and work. Men have priorities too. Some want to own the most toys, some need to boost their image, many have a strong need to excel at work. A increasingly large number of men want to parent in a more hands on manner than their own father parented them. What are your priorities? Are they defined by your religion? Culture? Personality?

When I was a Christian a book called The Purpose Driven Life, by Mr Rick Warren was extraordinarily popular. This book postulated that a love of God and doing His will should be a top priority. My travels in church led me to believe that in some sects doing God's will should be the only priority. What about having a job, I wondered. During a bible study I was told stories about unemployed people who sat around their kitchen table praying, only to receive a check in the mail the next day large enough to just cover every bill. The amount usually matched to the penny. Clearly making God sole priority enabled people to have proper testimony for when the sharing portion of the service started.

A woman named Mildred in my neighborhood made it a priority for a little while to come clean the Post Office where I worked. She volunteered, she wasn't getting paid. It took her no longer than it takes some people to watch a couple of TV shows. She found it social. Despite the fact that she was very hard of hearing she would occasionally respond to people who talked to her. There are a lot of things people can find time for when they prioritize. People say they don't have time to cook, and yet they find time to watch TV. People will say they don't have time for a spouse or a week end retreat, yet they always find time to fight.

If getting in shape is a priority, people are often willing to wake up early or drive to a gym or set aside money for yoga classes. If it is less of a priority, they may buy a work out DVD or piece of equipment like the Gazelle, which sits in the corner or ends up at a yard sale. Buying a dog is a nice idea for some families, but when they don't make the animal a priority the poor things end up lonely and full of bad habits like chewing and incessant barking. Getting a dog can help a person prioritize walking. Walking in the woods is not a priority to many people, but for those who set aside the time it can lower blood pressure and stress and build stamina.

For some people creative endeavors become a priority. People enjoy banging on drums, playing guitars, writing music and playing with friends. Even if the gigs are not paid, it is very satisfying for those in the subculture to enjoy music. Many other people enjoy writing. Even if you only do it occasionally without making it a priority it can be enjoyable. Making creative endeavors a priority has many fine side effects. You find yourself less stressed, happier and at ease in the world. Often ideas and answers at your work come to you quicker and with less effort when you have been dipping into your well of creativity. Sometimes you make connections with clients or vendors in a new deeper level when you share your creative endeavors.

I went to a meditation seminar recently where the teacher told us one of the effects of meditation is to "rest" the body. You can lower your heart rate and blood pressure through a consistent meditation practice. He told us that masters of meditation often slept less than other people because their bodies received rest from the practice. I didn't actually believe him because I'm a bit of a skeptic, but I enjoyed the class so much I was determined to make meditation a priority in my life. I set my alarm for half an hour earlier than usual. After three days of practice I realized I was waking up earlier than the alarm every morning in a refreshed state no matter how late I had gone to bed the night before. So I re-set the alarm for even earlier. I found myself more relaxed at work and after to handle everything that came up. That's a pretty immediate reaction!

For some people happiness is a priority. To that end they can be hedonistic or narcissistic although neither is required. If you genuinely enjoy other people's success they will share with you on an ever increasing basis. Hearing success stories can shore up a font of experience in the subconscious mind. You begin to learn that bad times do not last forever, a helpful perspective if you want to sustain joy. You also start to see yourself and your life in a different perspective, a subtle shift occurs as you stop measuring yourself by any yardstick but your own. Active listening is a skill that would be awesome to see taught in schools. Not only would the children get more out of the teaching but they would be better friends to their friends, better employees and better spouses.

A dedication to active listening enables a person to hear information very contrary to their own cherished beliefs and still see the other person's point of view. As Scout so drolly remarks in To Kill a Mockingbird, most people would rather talk about themselves. Having an active listener helps people feel validated. When they perceive themselves as valid they are less likely to perform anti-social deeds.

What are some hallmarks of active listening?

The absence of:

one upmanship (i.e. that reminds me of the time I. . . )

needing to "fix" the situation or the other person

advice giving

the word "should" and the word "but"

Try really listening the next time someone talks to you, and observing without judgment what they are saying. Go in for clarification before offering your view. See them open like a blossom in the sun.