One of the Clan Mothers that Jamie Sams talks about is Listening Woman. She is the keeper of Tiyoweh and is in tune with all things. She doesn’t just listen to words. She listens by watching how people act when they speak. She listens by interpreting dreams, and she listens to her own signals that she might lose her temper or that she might not be at her best.
I have been noticing over the last few years that listening seems to be a skill that is going by the wayside. As an example, there was an instance not too long ago when I was talking to a friend on the phone. They were telling some sort of story and I, as I tend to do, was quietly listening. They finished and said, “Hello?” They were wondering if I was still there. Clearly they had expected some sort of interruption while they were speaking. The experience of being able to get through a story sans interruption has become a rarity.
Why is this? I think perhaps social media plays a lot into this problem. After all, as I type here, no one can interrupt me. Well, I suppose my writing process could be interrupted, but I don’t need to worry about someone missing a detail. I don’t have to worry, just now, about whether I’m keeping someone’s attention. I’m talking. It’s all me. And that’s how it is across the online world. You are talking without interruption in conversations that may span hours or even days. Everyone gets to express their full thought. In the real world, though, it’s not like that. We have to travel with the ebb and flow of conversation. That seems a lot harder when you’re used to monologues.
What are we missing by not listening? A treasure trove, almost certainly. But we are also missing important details. I remember hearing about an experiment performed at a university quite some time ago. A student said hi to other students and always tended to get a “Oh hi, how are you?” response. Sometimes, the student countered with, “Ah, I have Cancer.” In almost all cases the other student either simply walked away or worse, said something like, “Oh, I’m fine too.” The expected response was, “Oh, I’m fine.” And that’s what people heard, even if that wasn’t what was said.
Listening can help us become attuned with our environment, not just with other people. Have you ever listened to the sounds of your house? The sounds of your neighborhood? Suddenly the ticking of your clock sounds like thunder. The whirring of your fridge or dishwasher seems deafening. You might hear sounds you never even noticed before. Step outside and just listen. You may hear birds or squirrels or cars from far away. And again, you may hear sounds you never really noticed before.
What are you missing by not listening? Take those earbuds out. Go a day (or an hour) without speaking, and only listen. How does this experiment affect you? Or how do you think it would? Go ahead. I’m listening.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearpark/2706701983/ via Creative Commons