Most often we notice the importance of listening in its absence! I’ve learned a good deal about listening by neglecting to. Unfortunately that’s how I’ve learned its value. I’ve argued in my listening class for years that we do not value listening in American society! I would extend the claim to other parts of the world but I am most familiar with my native home. Typically I like to ask students to tell me why they agree or disagree (few have actually disagreed with my claim!). Why do you think listening isn’t valued in our country?
Here’s an always intriguing question about this that is too many times my experience: can you explain why when you really desire to do something that feels like your heart speaking — even insisting — and have natural intelligence equal to the task — gumption, intuition, even personal experience of previous success or failure (which is of course also learning), and you find a perfect opportunity — maybe it even feels like the ripe occasion given as a gift — the gift of a lifetime perhaps, and instead of executing what you want to and know to do, you inst3ead, fail to ‘getter done’ as the common vernacular would have it? You may want to listen and know it’s the thing to do — but it simply escapes you and into the place of that lack, (an absence, which at that point feels more like derelict neglect), flows the costly consequences and reversals of the near imperfect performance — I didn’t listen after all! In my case this is often because I have a point to make rather than taking time to let another make theirs until I better understand what they ‘have in mind.’ From these failures I’ve come to define listening as “the desire to be intentionally, intimately present to the meaning of another.” I hope you can see why I might fail at this from time to time. But dear Jesus why when I’d like it to be other-wise.
My guess as the why you have not listened when you thought you really wanted to has to do with possible insecurities or wishes to have another view take precedent over the one your speaker is trying to articulate. At least these are popular reasons expressed by psychologists. As an example, for my part I know I struggled for a while with the notion that I had a lot more experience than younger colleagues and tended to argue with their ideas, particularly about pedagogy for a particular course. I had a lot invested in teaching that course and was responsible for creating the demand for the course so they could be hired. I wanted skill results and they wanted to just talk about ideas and not test very stringently about those ideas. Sadly, eventually I just let them have that course and moved on to other interests. I still puzzle today over the wisdom in that argument on both sides. Anyway, I think my personal investment in the development I had done with the course got in the way of my listening to them. They were smart people with good educations. Maybe if I had worked harder we could have developed something from both angles.
We are all guilty of not listening and just waiting to give our point of view. We don’t really listen to others because we are listening to the conversation we are having in our own heads. Positive or negative we have a never ending conversation in our minds. Depending on who and what we listened to growing up makes all the difference.
We will have to quiet our mind before we can entertain another thoughts. If we want to gain something from another person we have to decide if it will take over or bring value to our internal conversation
We have filters we see the world and filters we heard the world in. Depending on a larger number of things it can make listening more of a challenge. For example accents, regional worlds ie pop or soda . British/ Australian / American English. The location you are in and other external factors can “muddy” the listening waters.
Hey Dan, Good to hear from you — happy international day of listening! I’m taken with the idea that “we are listening to the conversation we are having in our own heads.” The Listening and Self-talk workshop I offered each semester address the issue but I insisted there that we did not listen to others (interpersonal) any better than we listened to ourselves (intrapersonal); this doesn’t refute your comment that we are taken up in that conversation such that it is distracting from attention to others. Also your remarks about “who and what we listened to growing up makes all the difference” resonates with the idea that we learn our listening behaviors in a listening community – and that is proving more and more a reality to me each day as I witness our public discourse and who ultimately gets our attention (and the degree to which I agree with what is ‘being sold’). The salon post on this site “Listening Begins in Social Community” takes up the seeming contradiction as to where listening actually ‘begins’; does listening begin with the self or begin with the social community to which we are first exposed. In the end this is a false dilemma since we seem to be able to differentiate the ‘behaviors’ that are overt and the ‘cognitive processes’ that remain always ‘covert.’ My point here isn’t to be didactic but affirming that you’ve touched on what to me are the very fundamental building blocks when it comes to examining our listening and what we think is actually going on. You also bring a sharpened view that ‘our values’ — as one of my dear students reminded me frequently — “always our values are present” — are incidental to those with whom we hope to successfully interact. I’m confessing in these recent years that I gave too little attention to the importance of monitoring the interference of our values since I was so much concerned with the ‘interpretive processes’ involved. Dr. Halley is a refreshing voice on this point and I encourage you to listen/view his videos posted here: https://listen4achange.org/2018/09/18/preparing-to-listen-in-difficult-situations/ Thanks for joining this Salon and I hope you’ll be a frequent contributor and feel that your insights and interests are taken to heart as we are all struggling today to listen for a change
I thought I would add to the complexity of this question. I believe that many people, maybe even most, can remember a time when they listened very well. They dust may not realize that is what happened. Think about a time when you went to a very favorite movie with friends. Think about what happened after the movie. I am willing to bet that a large number of people have had the following happen. You walk out of the theatre with your friends and begin quoting the dialogue of the movie. And everyone chimes in with the the next lines. This can continue for quite some time and may actually repeat most of the dialogue for the entire movie. I am suggesting that such an event could not have happened if you and your friends did not listen pretty well to the movie. I will stop here because I suspect you can fill in many suggestions for why the listening was so good for this event.
Images popped into my mind reading the comments surrounding this question. I recall a time, many times, as a child where I sat silently in the world absorbing the verbal and nonverbal messages all around me. My mind was silent, my eyes alert with the pure intent to become part of the message. It was during those times that I truly listened; truly felt the message while allowing it to become part of me. No ego, no personal agenda, no right or wrong existed in those moments – only the nature of listening to become part of something much bigger than myself.
Fast forward to maturity, to dating, marriage, employment – whatever it may be in the nature of adulthood. Competition enters the picture as a fundamental requirement for survival. Whether survival of my gene pool, food, materialism, etc. There fails to be focus on listening any longer; rather the personal drive to push, to win, to dominate. My instinctive drive is no longer to become part of something, but rather to use what I learned during that endeavor, as a child, to dominate today.
Reality is if I were to allow myself to listen, be as I were as a child, that I would gain much more “power” or inclusivity today. That I would grow in knowledge and understanding with humility rather than the illusion of dominance. Perhaps this is why scripture teaches us to believe like children – to have faith like the young. I am not a religious scholar, nor do I have endeavor to become one; however, the encouragement to challenge ourselves to listen has been a focus in attempt to awaken us for thousands of years.
Do we really listen to our own self to better understand what “it is” that drives us? Perhaps if we knew our own desires (true desires) we could prioritize and engage the abilities natural to us to listen
So many profound thoughts already given! Tammy, what an extraordinary gift at such a young age! My thoughts as I read the original post and the comments ran along the idea of Ego! I don’t know how to really think about it as anything else, and, “ego” encompasses so much…maybe all the other ways of thinking about it! That listening to my Self, “to better understand what “it is” that drives [me]”… has been a lifelong endeavor…even now at 60 years of age. And listening community, as Jerry speaks of, finally, to feel I have one now in more recent years, has made all the difference! Check out the Salon entitled Listening, Silence, Conformity, and Authenticity for some related thoughts! Thank you for what you shared, all!
Ego is the first thing that came to my mind as well. Not necessarily in the negative sense of the word. It is difficult to divorce ones self of self in the act of listening. As a female leader in a non-denominational Christian church, I have recently been thinking of listening as a ministry in and of itself. What I have found is listening is a true act of service to others. We are commanded to love God, and love others as our self. Serving others is essentially loving our neighbor as our self. While it is easy to listen to self, it is much more difficult to listen to others. However, when we do; when we are able to truly listen, to understand in love, I believe that is a great act of service to others. I have found people would rather be listened to than counseled. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute.
Several thoughts come to mind in reading your response. First of all I really like your thought of listening as ministry…that seems such an easy connection to make, yet how often do we really think of it that way? Maybe if we did we would give greater seriousness to trying to do it better. Certainly, any ‘ministry’ would be enhanced by listening but taking it to the level of the listening itself being the ministry may well be lost on most.
I’m curious about your statement that “…it is easy to listen to self…”… what does that mean and look like to you? Two things come to mind for me, likely because of how steeped I am in the Integrative Restoration (iRest) practice/mindset. When I think of listening to myself being easy I think of the dominant voices that often motivate and activate me. So in that sense at least I resonate with your statement/observation. In another sense, I view and experience the self as more of a multidisciplinary team…many parts that have sometimes different and even conflicting interests. Some of these have been repressed, anathema to us. I believe that for most of us it is a lifetime journey of discovering and integrating all the voices of our inner self, if we choose to take up that work. In this sense listening to self is not easy at all in my experience, though it gets easier the more I give myself to this process.
Also, I’m curious to your thoughts in response to the idea that “Listening begins with the self”, which is to say that we aren’t really able to listen to others beyond our ability to listen to ourself; which is also an idea, at least at this point, I operate under.
I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about and practice of listening as ministry, listening to self…what does that look like and mean to you (that listening to self is easier than listening to others), and the idea that “Listening begins with the self.”
Thanks so much Dayna for the opportunity to continue to explore these ideas about listening here!
Tammy, what an interesting claim. I very much hope it is real. Certainly, your thoughts about that time must influence your behavior, and your images of that time must be very important to you. I am wondering if you might be able to describe a particular moment where you had such an experience. I think we could all learn from such information. I know I like to think of myself as having had some special listening experiences, but I am hard pressed to be able to provide the evidence that can help me know for sure it happened the way I talk to myself about it. What do you think?
Sandra, I only have images of being in very small and limited sense of community. I know that is very much my own doing. I do not reach out to very many folks which I believe would be necessary to get to such a sense of community. I believe I do listen to myself on a fairly consistent way a lot of the time. That comes, I suppose, from seeming to need so much alone time. It probably also comes from not being very interested in many of the things many others in my experience want to talk about. I would guess, but have not tested out, that listening to some of that talk might lead to deeper conversation. So far, it does not seem to do so.
One thought that came to me in rereading the above salon regarding one of the first questions posed, “Why do you think listening isn’t valued in our country?”, is that for too many of us we grow up with this great inner pressure to speak our truth, that was fostered by our socialization into being a civilized human being in the context of a specific culture…too many of us begin early being taught not to express too rambunctiously, loudly, verbosely etc etc the inner exploration and development of our inner truth…good ie helpful listening was rarely modelled for most of us. Many of us were too often given the message we should be quiet, “shut-up and go to your room”, “listen up”, and expected to be the ones to do the listening. So back to my earlier point, many of us consequently carry with us that longing to speak our truth, to be heard and listened to, as more than a meager desire but more like an urgency…and if we’ve given up on that quest we too often have also shut off the desire to listen to anyone else (except regarding what immediately interests us), since, after all, why should we when we a. aren’t being listened to ourselves, and b. haven’t had much in the way of role models for it. Just a thought.