Thoughts on Listening

Very unoriginal this month, I fear. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought recently to the overwhelming lack of polite discourse (particularly political, but not limited to politics), and it’s disturbing how we seem to have stopped listening (or only listening long enough to get our own point across). That (very human) tendency only serves to further divide, and makes compassion difficult, and empathy all but impossible. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I’ve dusted off my August 2015 themed post on Listening. Instead of listening to find an opening for a response, think of how much better off we’d be if we simply listened, and really thought before responding – or realized that sometimes no response is necessary.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

— Anonymous (but with many unconfirmed attributions to Robert McClosky – not the children’s author, a State Department spokesman during the Vietnamese War in the late 1960’s)

When I first started planning what to write for this month’s  #1000Speak post on listening, the quote above popped into my head. An old favorite from my youth (I think I may have first encountered it in an Art Buchwald column at the time). It is, perhaps, not entirely in line with the compassion theme, but it serves to start off with a reminder that we often hear the words and not the intent, and in order to listen compassionately, we have to move beyond our natural tendency toward distracted listening.

The next thing that popped into my head, and stayed there for days (oh, those pesky earworms) was Cat Stevens’ highly introspective, and very short, song, “The Wind”:

“I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows”

This is also, perhaps, not entirely relevant to a piece on compassionate listening, but it, too, has its place. Compassion has to start within us. And learning to be still and listen to ourselves will bring us closer to being able to do the same for others. It is true that if we are not listening to ourselves mindfully, and with compassion, we will never be able to listen to others compassionately. It sounds trite, but we have to understand ourselves before we can understand others. So, listen to that voice in your head, and occasionally the one in your heart, so that you can find your own equilibrium. That makes is much easier to simply live in a world inhabited by other people, and makes it possible to reach out. With a helping hand, or to take one.

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

— Margaret J. Wheatley

Hearing is passive, listening is active. We hear an overwhleming amount all day long. Those of us capable of hearing, are also incapable of turning it off. We are, in fact, bombarded by sounds, all of the time. Our brains, helpfully, do block out ‘normal’ sounds while we sleep – so that we can sleep – and they also filter sounds, in much the same way that they filter abundant visual stimulation, by deciding what’s relevant, and dialing back what isn’t (or hopefully isn’t).

Unfortunately, we filter quite a bit, unconsciously, while listening, also. This is very apparent when we listen while doing other things – we get distracted by email while on a conference call, or we are attempting to eat dinner while chatting with a friend on the phone, or we are trying to read while our children are talking to us about something that we have minimal interest in, or… There a veritable multitude that I’m guilty of and I know I’m not alone. Suddenly I realize that I have absolutely no idea what we are talking about – let alone why my opinion is necessary.

“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

When we attempt to listen while doing other tasks, we often miss the intent, if not the actual words. When someone tells us they are tired, it could be simply a factual observation. Or it could mean that they’re bored (a common problem with teens). Or it could be indicative of an existential crisis. Or depression. Unless we are really listening – to the words as well as the tone, the underlying emotion – we may miss something important. Perhaps even an attempt to reach out.

“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen

But, we have another, more difficult, problem when listening. Part of our brain’s filtering, categorizing, and self-protective functions, includes keeping ‘me’ front and center. Even when we are listening attentively, we are still hearing through our own filters – our own experiences, prejudices, belief system. A co-worker’s spouse has gout? How did your Aunt Jane deal with hers? We are often listening more with an ear out for how to respond. Even if our intent is sympathy, understanding, common ground, it is still making the listening about us, not about the person we’re listening to. Many times all that is needed is someone to listen. Not to offer advice, not to commiserate. Just to listen. This is perhaps hardest of all. Part of our desire to connect leads us to seek out a common thread that we can respond with, but that comes from our own desire. Ask if there’s anything we can do, if that’s appropriate, and sincere, but don’t preface the offer with a commentary about Aunt Jane’s gout, or your problems with morning sickness during your second trimester.

Don’t multi-task, try to take your own experiences out of the equation, and just listen. Something that is increasingly difficult to do in our highly electronic, multi-tasking oriented world, but it is necessary to try as we continue our efforts to make our corner of the universe a better, more compassionate place.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Please check out the weekly and monthly magazines to see some of the wonderful pieces that have been collected.

To add your voice to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please check out the Facebook group here.

Reminders

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

— Lao Tzu

As expected, a weekend of visitors – some expected, some not – has left me, late on a Sunday, unprepared, and so this post isn’t quite what I’d had in my head, but no matter – I will eventually get caught up, and get this month’s #1000Speak post written, and possibly some others that are floating around my head.

And so, I am instead sharing these words of wisdom from the Tao Te Ching as a reminder to myself that everything will be fine as long as I don’t get caught up in what is not fine now.

Mother’s Day part 2

My Mother’s Day gift this year was a morning spent playing with high performance cars on a real track. I had a great time, managed not to make a fool of myself, and even got a nice lunch out of it. My husband came along to watch so he got the lunch, too. I think he would have liked participating better, but he didn’t really like the price tag. So we will finally go hot air ballooning when we go on vacation this summer, I think, since it will only be the two of us this year, because he’d much rather do that…

But all of that driving left me tired, and disinclined to write a serious post. This weekend promises to be a busy one – houseguests are coming for the weekend – so my Sunday post, which was to also be my monthly #1000Speak post, may not work out as planned, either. But it’s all good. Que sera sera. C’est la vie.  It is what it is…. and any other appropriate variant.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a peaceful weekend. And I leave you with this thought about time from Martin Heidegger:

“Temporality temporalizes as a future which makes present in the process of having been.” — Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

 

Tuesday’s Quotes – May 16, 2017 – Moderation

“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

Alexander Hamilton, Constitutional Convention,  June 1787

It seemed like a good time to dust this quote off. Our government was created as a Democratic Republic primarily try to minimize the impact of extremist views, which are a risk in a true democracy, and to thereby protect the rights of those in the minority. It seems like out polarization keeps getting worse – what we need, and do not have, is both a president and a congress that are willing to work together – dare I say compromise – to unify the country, in stead of actively promoting the divisions.

Alexander Hamilton image from http://www.biography.com/people/alexander-hamilton-9326481

Happy Mother’s Day

To all of my friends, family, and extended family – mothers or nurturing fathers, and everyone who has helped guide someone younger than yourself – I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, and leave you with this thought on motherhood from Oprah Winfrey:

“Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”

Image of summer flowers from http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/flower-images.html

For what it’s worth…

As I was commenting on the EPA website in regard to the rolling back of the regulations that have been protecting our air and water since the Nixon administration, I was reminded of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the dangers of allowing corporations to do whatever they want to for the sake of profit. I’ve used it before, and fear that I’ll have to repeat it again as the current administration, and our congress, allows profit to overcome sensibility.

“To permit every lawless capitalist, every law-defying corporation, to take any action, no matter how iniquitous, in the effort to secure an improper profit and to build up privilege, would be ruinous to the Republic and would mark the abandonment of the effort to secure in the industrial world the spirit of democratic fair dealing.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, December 8, 1908

Just some food for thought as we wrap up another politically overwhelming week.

Pax.

Photo of the Rio Grande Gorge, taken July 2015, in northern New Mexico – an area now at risk as the interior department looks to potentially eliminate or reduce the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, along with 20+ other National Monuments under the terms of  President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order.