The lost art of listening

By Haben Tesfamichael. Haben is a student from Kingston, Canada. Please read his essay and leave your thoughts below.

There was a story I heard about a decision of a soldier caused by misunderstanding the order. The general told the soldier “Kill him NOT, leave him” – the stress was on “NOT”. The soldier was ordered to set the prisoner free. But to the misfortune of the prisoner, the ears of the soldier were not at their best. He perceived the order as, “Kill him, Not leave him” and you can finish the rest of the story.

I am not sure whether the story is historically relevant. However, the moral of the story is too significant to ignore. Lack of listening skill can lead to detrimental effect – in some cases up to the death of an individual.

I agree with the idea that people are no longer listening to others just for listening’s sake. Nowadays, you can never be sure whether the other is listening to you. Our mind is racing with the intent to produce the next smart response to the speech of others to the extent that the content become secondary to the answer. There are several reasons to this dilemma, but I will mention the most important ones.

There are three dimensions in the conversation of individuals: the speaker, the listener, and the message. If one of the three is not present, the interaction can’t not be called conversation. Two people blabbering without a common and concrete idea is not conversation. But unfortunately, our lives are becoming the manifestation of this chaos and our interactions are devoid of the depth brought by listening.

I consider listening to be an art form. It is a colorful encounter with the sound. When you give your attention fully to whatever someone is speaking, without wondering what the next words could be or without having any idea about the value of the information, you synchronize with the rhythm of the speaker. It is known fact that people start speaking with a melodious tone if they subconsciously know they are being heard attentively. Therefore, listening is an art form – if you give it at least the reverence you bestow to music. When we listen to a music, we are transformed to an alternate sphere where only the melody exists. At that moment, nothing else is as important as the song – you feel it. Or the best way to express it is – you become it.

The calamity of our generation is that, we are no longer enjoying the art of listening. I can even dare to say we are not listening at all. The characteristic conversation of the current time involves one person talking and the other one interrupting him/her to introduce his/her perspective. What make this eccentric is the flow of ideas that you listen from the dialogue of people are actually disconnected.

But what happened to us? This is important question. We are the generation of people who are obsessed with expressing ourselves more than creating ourselves. There was never a time in human history when the most portion of the society was trying to express themselves. Nowadays it is rare to see a person that is not trying to acquire a following in social media whether for personal or business purpose. The everyday ideas of people – ideas that were not supposed to be shared in the past – are becoming important. People are not filtering their content – they think anything that originates from their mind it is important.

The egoistic and self-absorbed lifestyle is leading to chaos. People seek counselling or psychotherapy just to be listened. The art of listening is being searched with a torch – and it is no longer free. And what make this hilarious is – the counselors or therapists are just entangled in the same drama as their clients.

This generation is not an intelligent generation – it is smart one. We are celebrating persons who cut the line and reach the peak. We are in awe of people who act intelligent, speak intelligent, look intelligent but who are not actually intelligent. We are raising kids with the idea that they are unique, and they can share their feelings without telling them first that in order to share something, you must first have it. Our life is like a beggar giving an alimony which he has not received yet. We are trying to give what we don’t have.

We are trying to act like we know by preparing an answer beforehand without realizing whatever is being told. The emphasis become on expression – the paradox is: how can someone express what he does not possess?

The most pitiful aspect of this phenomenon is that people are losing opportunities to learn from other people. Wise people are not willing to share their wisdom to people who does not differentiate gold and ash. We forget that gold and ash are of totally different quality. They both pass through the fire and only gold survives the acid test. When faced with the ultimate challenges of life, the only one that survives is the one that can attend to the situation.

To sum up, listening is no longer the same as it was before. Most people are trying to be heard not to hear. The interactions that focus on delivering the next possible response are very common and as a generation we are losing the opportunity to learn the wisdom of the past.

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