Listen, the baby’s crying, the dog is barking, a car is squealing its brakes and the clerk at the store just asked if you had any coupons or bottle receipts… Is this just something you heard, or weren’t you listening? What does it mean to listen? Does it mean something different than to hear? Can we hear what someone says even when we aren’t listening? Does it even matter that there might be a difference between listening and hearing and if so what could it be? Are you listening to me?
To listen means to truly appreciate what you are hearing; to understand with great depth and meaning what is being shared. We can listen with the intent of problem solving, and we can listen with an open heart that desires only to be supportive. Listening is an art and some think, a skill; a skill that many may never develop and an art that some have yet to appreciate for whatever reason. There are those who believe that listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other.
Conversation swirls around us constantly, a steady stream of blah, blah, blah often masks the need to think, to really pay attention to what is actually going on. We take for granted that the sounds we experience may possibly have meaning as we are lulled into the dance of traffic, caught up in the office chatter, confused by barking dogs or zoned out by background music that all seem to fill the void in between thoughts. The truth is that even if there were something really important that any of this sound was trying to tell us, we might never really know because we are lost in the translation anyway.
So at what point do we differentiate, to give the meaningless meaning and to go from something being merely that which we thought we heard to that we choose to listen to? Choice of course! We make a conscious choice to listen and listening makes the difference between being perceived as someone who just doesn’t care to someone others entrust with secrets deeply personal. We choose to be present, to hold the space for another to open up and be vulnerable. When we listen there is a bond established, a connection that is formed linking souls, minds and even hearts into one thought or direction. Genuinely listening to someone can change both lives for the better by shifting a perspective and creating an alliance that erases ignorance and elevates an awareness that differences only exist perhaps because we have NOT taken the time or care to LISTEN.
And yes the argument can be made that we DO hear more than we give ourselves credit for even if we have not actively been listening. Song lyrics come to us seemingly out of nowhere as we find ourselves singing along one day in the car or the store maybe not even realizing that we knew the words. But that doesn’t mean we were listening with intent, instead it probably means that we have heard that particular song so often that the words were simply stuck on this loop in our minds which is activated by the sound of the tune each time it plays. We might even be able to repeat dialogue from a conversation when we think long and hard about it but again do we KNOW of which we speak or are we remembering that we heard it.
We may hear a sound the car makes when we start it but what happens when we listen to what that sound is telling us? If it sounds odd to us we may visit the local mechanic who will listen to the vehicle and hopefully tell us what we want to HEAR which is that everything will be okay. What is the difference between what we heard and what the mechanic hears? A trained ear! Doctors employ the same skill as they are trained to listen for certain sounds that give clues as to how they can best help us. Salespeople, if they are any good at what they do are trained to hear the subtle “ask me one more time” in the midst of the protest and when they sense the right moment, chances are they make that sale.
A skill, an art however you define listening we can all improve, no one has the market cornered on being the best listener. And if someone tells you that you ARE in fact the best listener take that compliment to heart, where it like a badge of honor for in a world where so many tune out, YOU have truly heard what someone else had to say because you took the time to LISTEN.