Listening & Learning

How might I be different if I knew every idea, thought and reflection I retain in the synapses of my brain is limited or wrong, and acted in every moment as if that were true? How might I treat others differently, and how might they treat me in new ways, if, in a moment of meeting, we knew each had something of value to share with the other. How might my relationships with others be different if I stopped the incessant building of walls to protect my own misguided ways of seeing? What would it take for us to see that learning and new ways of seeing are available to us in every moment? If we were to listen to each other in ways that showed our care, concern and affection for them and their life story, might we also exhibit unconditional love?

How might the world evolve in new ways if we were to listen with every ounce of our being to each word another speaks? It is said the humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, would perspire when listening to another because he found it to be such difficult work to be fully present to another. How might our conversations change if we were to listen to everything others have to say? How might our discourse change if, after every thought, a moment of two of silence ensued so we might digest the wisdom in another’s thoughts. If we knew we were going to be truly heard, that every thought we were to express would be treated with respect, might we also slow down and choose our words carefully. In today’s conversations do we feel the need to talk rapidly and express every thought and emotion, for fear the minute we pause, our voice would be silenced?

If I am to honor the covenant with others in search of truth, a requisite is to listen…to always act in ways that show I am open to new ideas, new thinking, and alternative ways to see the world. I must be prepared to begin more of my retorts in discussions and debates with “the perspective you just expressed is interesting and different from mine…would you be willing to explain how you come to that conclusion?” rather than “that’s wrong!”

The word respect comes from the same root as the word inspect…the meaning of which is to look. Inspect means to look into, and respect to look again. We truly respect another when we are willing to take the time to relook—with interest and sincerity—at a perspective that differs from ours. To declare another’s perspective as misguided, without listening deeply to their story, is to show tremendous disrespect…and miss a valuable opportunity to learn something new about the Universe through a new set of eyes.

1 thought on “Listening & Learning”

  1. Roger, it is New Year’s eve and I wanted to revisit your post feeling that your thoughts merited some response. And I thank you for hosting the Socrates Cafe, being the convener for a quality exchange of ideas. This type of opportunity is rare unless one happens to be in grad school. The life of the mind is precious and demands cultivation in community with others. So thank you!

    Your thought experiment entails many possibilities. A few that occurred to me are: from the internal experience of the subject, the one who speaks or is speaking — such a systemic doubt about the truth of what one is saying would result in paralysis of mind, the inability to say anything. That is what systemic doubt does. You and I would be reduced to the position that Descartes reached when he said that the only think that he didn’t doubt was his mind’s activity, everything else was shredded by doubt. I think that it is well enough if we recognize the provisional, the incomplete nature of our “knowledge” even those statements verified by science. More remains to be discovered, to be known and no one of us has the last word about anything. Well maybe, 2+2=4. But that is quite trivial….

    Your admonition that we practice mindful listening seems productive to me. I have much room for improvement there. Becoming willing to open an encounter with a question instead of a statement suddenly occurs to me. That requires some attention to formulating open ended questions.

    Of course such a strategy is no guarantee that the addressee desires a sharing of ideas. Not everyone is a seeker of truth. I believe that you are correct to say that the basic agreement that is in force between our fellows is an obligation of respect. When that is not reciprocated,– then one must move on. Life is short and death is long. One’s time is precious not to be wasted with anyone with an adversarial attitude.

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