Listening to Others

“The most fundamental concept of all good conversations (and life in general) is the ability to listen. It’s the hardest thing to do but it’s the most important. When I’m talking, I’m in control. I don’t have to hear anything I’m not interested in. I’m the center of attention. I can bolster my own identity. Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.’ You are listening to understand, not just reply, and it’s something that’s often, but should never be forgotten.”
Celeste Headlee, “Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation” (A TED Talk)

Listening as an important aspect of communication may be taken in several ways: (1) when a piece of advice is given, a suggestion is made or a recommendation is offered; (2) when a story is told or an explanation is stated; (3) when a pleading is voiced out, a complaint is uttered or an appeal is brought across; (4) when a command is issued or a request is spelled out; (5) when a speech is delivered, a sermon is preached, or a lecture is rendered. This list is not however exhaustive; more instances could be thought of.

But the question is, Do we really want to listen? or, Are we ready to listen?

In a serious situation do we have the desire and patience to listen? Or would we rather talk than listen? In a lot of cases, we only pretend to listen but the truth of the matter is, we are basically spaced out, so to speak, while formulating in our minds something we want to say once the speaker is done. The point is, we are more interested to be listened to than to actually listen. But if this is a common tendency across the board, then the basics of communication break down. There are only “talkers” but no listener at all. If people only want to talk and not seriously listen, then talking is an exercise in futility.

In certain circumstances which we simply dismiss as negligible, we lose the concentration to listen. We tend to think of other things unrelated to what is being talked about. We don’t pay attention at all to what is being said. We are in a different world which at that very moment is more important than the topic being discussed.

The art of listening–if we may call it as such–is difficult. There are times when it is easily done while there are other times when it is more like a struggle. We tend to be selective on what we want to listen to. We don’t listen to everything and to everybody. In fact, on the basis of the credibility issue, we avoid some people who want to communicate what’s in their minds. They won’t convince us this time because before, they never did. Listening is the most difficult aspect of communication because we all want to say something and unless that something is expressed, we won’t have peace in us.

In another instance, we don’t want to listen to people expressing views different or at worst diametrically opposed to our most cherished beliefs. We have been comfortable and secure holding a particular belief and a different view challenging such a belief is taken not simply as an assault not only to that belief but more than anything else, against our very own person.

But generally, listening to others is not only important but necessary. Regardless of how long we have been living in this world, there is and will always be things both old and new that we need to be aware of, know and know by heart. We may have mastered some few experiences in life but this world continually changes and if we don’t constantly upgrade ourselves, we will surely be left out not only in the dark but more so in the cold, so to speak. In this sense, we need to affirm every now and then the reality that we are perennial learners and it is just impossible for us to learn everything in an instance. The realistic pace is we learn and do things step by step, one moment at a time. It is one significant attitude we have to accept that there are experts more knowledgeable than us in matters that will help us cope with certain complexities and difficulties and thus lead us to a better condition of being.

Corollary to that notion is, under normal circumstances, we are also knowledgeable–and perhaps, even experts–in other areas of concern. In the same vein as what has previously been brought up, we likewise have the desire and willingness to share what we know to others who show interest in what we want to say. That is the time when we start to talk with the expectation that those before us are willing to listen and listen with enthusiasm to every idea that we articulate.

The basic notion of communication is couched on the principle that it is two-way traffic and listening is an exclusively important aspect of it. The essence of communication is defeated and crumbles under the rubbles of confused and confusing hollers when there is a breakdown in a supposedly educated, orderly and sober discussion of a particularly interesting topic. And it can only happen because everybody wants to talk but nobody wants to listen.

At the end of the day, failure in communication leaves a situation in disarray and in many cases, a compounding of misunderstanding that ultimately leads to animosity and at worst even physical violence. In this connection, whatever our premises might be, we conclude with a high degree of certainty that despite the importance of talking in communication, much more extraordinarily significant is listening and listening intently which definitely leads to a better understanding of whatever issue we have on the table.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 01 May 2019

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