Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Discomforts of Listening

Lately I have been thinking a lot about listening--in particular, how difficult it can be to listen to something that I strongly disagree with. While thinking about this topic, I did a Google image search for ears and noticed for the first time how much an ear looks like a fetus--something curved and huddled. But it is also a receptacle--made to receive.
     The experience of having to listen to something I don't want to hear--of fending off a message someone else is trying to deliver--can be agitating and almost intolerable. I have this experience while listening to particular politicians or particular political or moral/ethical opinions. This can also happen in the context of some personal disagreements (with friends or family); I become so preoccupied with defending myself--preparing my defense or next remark--that I can't take in what the person is saying. I guess that "can't" isn't the right word, because as I mentioned, I don't really want to hear what "they" are saying.

"What could be so bad?" you might ask. Afraid to hear a few words? It's not like you're being tortured. But yes it is. Or it can feel that way. "Why?" is the question. This is something that requires some reflection, and I will report back in future posts, I hope, as to what I discover. Because, really, I believe that I should and want to be able to take in what people have to say--even if I disagree or the other person's message seems to diminish me in some way. It seems like the one and only hope for connecting with people. And connecting with people seems to be one great and hopeful possibility for us humans. But that sense of diminishment? That seems to be key. 
     So now, that idea of the ear as a fetus is seeming double edged--something that can grow, develop, become an independent life form (well, I mean, the message can do that; not the ear itself). Oh, I'd love to hear what you have to say about this. But asking for that assumes you are listening (can tolerate listening) to me. Now there (below) is an image of joyous listening.


Etta said...

I hated listening to George W. Bush.

Jim Poznak said...

Thank you for reminding us about the importance of listening.

rasi said...

I think your problem is the word "diminish". Diminishing comments are just that and cannot hope for a positive response or acceptance. If one feels diminished when hearing unpleasant comments which logic and common sense do not support, the message is not hitting the appropriate comment. Effective communication does not intimidate, although we may not want to hear it. Unfortunately, there is too much being said that means nothing but an exercise of pseudo-power on the part of the speaker. deciding the difference between useless hype and good communication is the simplified answer to me.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks so much for this. Effective communication IS key, and difficult. I have such an emotional response, sometimes, to what I am hearing, I can't apply either logic or common sense. I need to think more about that word "diminish." I appreciate you highlighting it.