Since the beginning of your time, you were listening, hearing. Hearing the murmurs of your mother’s voice through the thin veil of her skin with which she held you so carefully. You were unable to respond with words from your inside sphere, instead you might give a kick or move as a way of saying, ‘I hear you, outside world.’ And when you were born, you had perfectly formed senses. Two ears and one mouth, maybe that was for a reason, at least the old wives tail thinks so.
The art of listening was not something that came naturally to us. As children we always wanted our voice heard, our belief, opinion, want, need known. We would cry at unsociable hours, wouldn’t share our toys and had to learn to be sympathetic. We might grow out of these behaviours but some core strands remain. Moving on to when we were older, writing a CV and trying to show our best side… ‘strong interpersonal qualities’ we would type or at that interview when we’re asked ‘so tell me about a time when you worked well as a team…’ I bet the words good communication skills made an appearance. And although we would like people to believe that we are good at listening, we could always do well to try and improve. Listening, with our mouths closed and ears open is harder than what we might imagine.
My reflections come as a response from a course I recently attended called Skills in Development Education where a group of us from all walks of life came together to explore social injustice issues and in processing the themes we covered, we learnt to listen, really listen, to each others words. During the course we shared deeply about out experiences and past oppressions, things which were passionate to us and things which made us tick in this metropolis of a globe.
One particular activity found us sitting in threes, each taking time to answer the statement ‘Something I love about being alive on this earth is…’ Now that’s a pretty deep statement to mull over, especially with other people, but the groups threw themselves into it to have an experiential learning session. The speaker would be invited to share for two and a half minutes whilst their team mates listened, no questions asked, encouraged not even to make a noise of solidarity or nod their head. Just pure silence whilst their sharer spoke openly. I found this exercise powerful. My reflections from this activity are outlines in 3 short segments.
I saw the people shift as they listened to their sharer’s stories during this exercise. These stories were deep and born out of inner musings some of which reached straight into the hearts of the listeners. You could almost feel the intense fog rise in the room of concentration, of people connecting. It is rare that we ever get to speak to people with no interference whatsoever, just eyes to eyes and words to ears. But why? Has the art of truly listening slipped from our grip as we walk about life seeking quick fixes, instance gratification and always having our questions answers. We are more than capable of this as intellectual and emotive beings. There is a beauty about stillness whilst allowing people to openly share. It’s powerful, it enables us to see the hearts of friends in vulnerability and build meaningful friendships that empower, allowing us to critically analyse the world and mobilise ourselves for a brighter tomorrow.