Listening is loving by ear

A Meditation on The Art of Heart

When someone says, “Hey, listen,” they want to get your attention — and more than likely, they want all of it. Sometimes, though, you feel able to spare only some of it — or none.

Still, social norms bid us at least make an effort, so more often than not, we turn to them and say, “Yeah?”

But deep down, we all know the truth:

Listening is not the same as hearing.

Truly listening requires you make 2 assumptions

  1. You have to assume that what they have to say is unknown to you.
  2. You have to assume that what they have to say is important.

Both are necessary: you can’t have one or the other alone.

If you think you know what they have to say already, then even if you think it’s important, you won’t really listen — you’ve heard it before, maybe even from someone else. If you think what they have to say is not important, good luck avoiding coming off as condescending or patronising.

And if you consider that communication is a kind of getting naked, not listening is the equivalent of ignoring someone who’s taking their clothes off for you.

Not very nice.

As it turns out, both of these problems are quite fixable.

If you feel like you know what someone has to say, remember you can’t know how they see it.

If you think it’s not important, remember it’s at least important to them.

Simple, enough to understand, perhaps, but totally not easy. It might be the hardest thing you will ever do, this listening business.

The reason is…

Truly listening changes how we see

When you listen — really listen — you start to see differently. You see the other person differently. You see things differently.

In fact, if you don’t see differently after supposedly listening to someone…

You really weren’t listening.

Because the whole point of listening is not simply hearing words. The point is coming out of yourself enough to see through the other person’s eyes.

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them. In fact, listening gives you the best chance of disagreeing: it’s amazing how open people are to being disagreed with when they feel heard.

And that’s the real work of listening: making the person feel heard. It’s not listening until the other person says it is.

Yes, I just said that.

It’s not listening until the other person says it is.

Does that sound hard? Unfair?

Sorry, but that’s what listening does: it puts the other person first.

In a sense, to listen to someone, really listen, is to be at their mercy. That’s why it’s hard to do. Who wants to be at someone else’s mercy?

Anything can happen.

Heck, you might even end up agreeing with them. Or pitying them. Or seeing the world through their eyes.

And who knows where that might lead?

Ultimately, listening is about caring

Or else, why would you go to all that effort trying to remember how they see it, thinking about how it’s important to them?

The good thing is, you can start from either end. Caring makes you a better listener, but listening also makes you care more.

It goes round like that.

And that’s why I made up my own definition for listening:

Listening is loving by ear.

Who will you love by ear today?

Images: Linnea Sandbakk

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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