Thursday 6 November 2014

Don't Listen

East End Graffiti (2005)

Many management and self development courses list 'listening skills' and the improvement of such skills in their course outlines. Interviews and matchmaking websites have prospective candidates, in an effort to impress, purporting to be 'good listeners.' Last week I, in an attempt to learn more, committed to concentrating on this life skill to improve on the quantity and quality of my listening. After a week I had enough.

Enough Listening

Plastic Ducks Listening
I have had enough of listening. I do it all the time. It's my job and inclination. However its not an appropriate word to describe the level of interactivity and engagement that is necessary in community work. Just hearing isn't enough. Paying attention is key. I can hear and not understand or empathise or have any emotional reaction, which some may actually call 'being professional'. Professionals feel. Professionals are allowed to feel. Professionals should feel. We just have to be professional in our response to those feelings.

The Dead have Something To Say

Listening is limited to living people. There are so many people we should pay attention to who are dead. Fortunately we can know what they have to say in their writing. From Shakespeare to Helen Keller, they may be dead but we can still learn from them. As Steven King suggests, when we read what authors have to say its like we are reading their minds. Even dead minds.

Can Deaf People 'Hear'?

Some Deaf people do - some Deaf people don't. All Deaf people communicate, respond, translate and interpret and understand. Whether understanding comes from reading sign language or lip reading or reading braille or reading by the touch of the hand or simply reading, listening is not necessary to that understanding.

Not Hearing Right?

What about the people we hear who we don't want to hear, like the person in the cafe quoting from the book 'Is God Anti Gay.' We aren't book burners so we try to concentrate on not snatching it from his hand and setting it alight within a minute of hearing what he has to say. We pay attention instead to what our reasonable colleagues say. Perhaps he was explaining how ridiculous religious prejudices were and using the book to provide evidence. We understand and love them for their optimism. And they are right – we don't know the context.

Who Listens to Themselves?

Our thoughts and our bodies and our souls in between - do we 'listen' to them? Do we heed the signals? Are we paying attention to our prejudices to avoid discrimination? Are we mindful of our habits to avoid the bad ones? Are we aware of our bodies subtle signals to avoid ill health? Do we just ignore the communication and let our subconscious deal with it without our conscious attention? That is until it gets to the point when it is like a large billboard on the highway of life and the driving force of the conscious can't ignore it anymore?

Don't Listen

Let's not listen. Let's be mindful. Pay attention. We want to engage and understand and learn. Not just listen. I propose that we attend. That we apply our minds and energies. That we stop inactive listening. And we start understanding. That's all there is really.

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