We need to Listen

Conrad Saldanha

We need to listen to understand; listen to see; listen to alleviate suffering.

Discussion vs. Dialogue

In classical Latin ‘discutere’, which is the root for discussion, means “strike asunder, break up”. Later on it evolved into “to examine”, “to investigate” and then “to debate”. So a discussion involves breaking a topic into its parts in order to understand it better. It comes from a linear thinking mind-set of reducing the whole into its components. Discussion is therefore associated with breaking down and constructing.

While dialogue emerges from the Greek ‘dia’ which means ‘through’ and ‘logos’ which refers to that which gives meaning to the whole of life. So a dialogue results in meaning flowing through a conversation among people. This meaning will not emerge if people are not respected and listened to. Dialogue comes from a systems thinking mindset. Where interactions and process are more important. The whole is more important than the parts. Dialogue is therefore associated with integrating and creating.

Discussion focuses on Aggressive Persuasion; Dialogue on Deep Listening. More often than not we are involved in discussions where each one tries to strongly convince the other of her/his point of view. We have no time to listen. In fact we lack the capacity to listen. We are so full of ourselves. That is why very often at the end of a discussion we feel highly dissatisfied because we feel we have not been listened to nor supported enough to express our point of view, or have been cursorily brushed aside. At the end of a discussion a point of view seems to have prevailed but no satisfying meaningful dialogue experienced. No sense of meaning has emerged out of the conversation which resonates with the group.

Why can’t we listen

How can we listen to others when we carry so many biases about them! We are continuously judging, evaluating and categorising. The ticker tape in our minds keeps prompting us with “He is too aggressive”, “He is so boring”, “His opinions suck”, “He doesn’t have much to say”, and so on, to the extent that we lose focus on what the person is trying to say. While the other is speaking we rehearse our persuasive intervention instead of listening to what is being said and allowing something to emerge from the flow and surprise us.

We find it hard to listen because we carry so much of rancour and hurt within us. If we don’t forgive the other how can we listen to him/her? We find it difficult to forgive. We find it difficult to accept our errors. We feel wronged when we are shown up. We want to cling to our self — righteousness. By not forgiving the other person, we do not free her/him nor do we free ourselves. We remain locked in an adversarial relationship. Each one trying to out manoeuvre the other and get one’s point of view to prevail. In a continuous vicious cycle of one-upmanship.

Listening to ourselves; our assumptions

To be effective in listening to others we first need to listen to ourselves — our inner selves. We need to become aware of our assumptions and the way we see life. For instance, whether we feel life is just a bargain, or whether life is just a gamble, or whether life is a gift, or whether life is meant to be lived for others in service, or whether the whole of life is interconnected and interdependent and so on and so forth. These assumptions form the basis for creating the tapestry of our lives.

We need to become aware of the patterns being created in our relationships because of the assumptions we hold about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, our colleagues, our environment, our country, our world — in fact about the whole of life. Most of us are unaware of the assumptions we hold and therefore are not aware of how these assumptions are either supporting or being detrimental to our experiencing fulfilling relationships. We have eyes but do not see.

The best book to read is our life as it is being lived. What is ‘in here’ is ‘out there’. We create our world the way we see it. And the way we see it is based on the assumptions we hold as true. We need to question our assumptions. And see if they nurture our growth and the growth of the whole of life or not. Only then will the scales drop from our eyes and we will be able to see clearly. We are too attached to our assumptions and therefore we hardly ever change. We create the same patterns. We get stuck in a rut and grow senile. Because we refuse to see differently.
We are afraid that if we truly listened we would be transformed.

Listening to Silence

In order to achieve awareness of our assumptions we need to be able to listen to silence. Without listening to silence we cannot listen to ourselves, to others, nor appreciate the beauty of nature and life. We need to be able to listen to the unexpressed. We need to be able to listen to the flower blooming, or the sun rising or the dew drop falling. We need to be in alignment with the rhythm of life. Today we have become slaves of the rhythm of technology and therefore have no time to listen to silence. We are afraid to listen to silence. We need to regain our authentic selves through developing our capacity to listen to silence.

In this unprecedented period of life as we experience our frailty and vulnerability caused by the insidious Covid 19 we need to make ourselves available to listen to others who are going through trauma and despair. Because a person listens it is possible they will experience a fresh breath of life. More often than not they are not seeking advice. Just someone who can truly listen. Listening with compassion helps the other person to suffer less. Listening heals. Isolation kills. Listening connects us and makes us come alive.

We need to listen and connect. We need to bring hope.