If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does. The tree doesn’t require someone to hear it for it to make a sound. So why do we…?
If you pay attention to your thought process when you’re listening to someone, you’ll notice that you’re not so much listening as you are formulating your response in your head. You’re getting the meat of what the other person is telling you, but not the bones. Your brain is too busy putting together bits and pieces to respond to the information it is receiving. This may sound cold and self-absorbed, because you’re not giving the other person your undivided attention, but undivided attention is very rare, and usually only occurs when someone drop-dead gorgeous walks by, or when you’re watching a Youtube video. That’s the way our mind is programmed. The brain processes thoughts a squillion times faster that we can talk, and as we tend to use a lot of extraneous adverbs and “um’s” when we’re talking, it cuts to the chase.
But this isn’t the real question here. The real question is why we feel such an insatiable need to tell people about the events of our lives. What are we getting out of it? What changes inside of us by telling someone something about our life? You gripe to your mate about your awful day. You woke up grumbly, and things went downhill as the day went on, but for some reason, telling your mate about your horrible day makes you feel better. How? Why? We call it getting things off our chest, and we know what that means in a metaphorical sense, but what is getting it off your chest? Why do you feel better when you share your bad day with someone else? Nothing about your day changes by telling someone about it, yet you no longer feel like a piece of gum underneath someone’s shoe. Why?
When you’re composing your response to someone in your head before they’ve finished talking, your mind is looking for a solution to the problem being presented. The mind solves things through comparative association. In other words, when the mind is presented with a dilemma, it goes into its file cabinet and digs around for things of a relative nature to compare it to. It’s like googling within your own personal world wide web—everything you’ve experienced through every one of your senses. This is why when people encounter things like ghosts and bigfoots, they usually blow a fuse. They have no files to compare it to (aside from Youtube videos), so their brain shows an error code, causing it to reboot in a very loud, frantic, arm-flailing way.
You can define the reason we tell people things in hundreds of ways: to gain perspective, to be given an outside opinion. It’s to incite a bit of sympathy, salve a wound, re-live a memory, feel connected, cared for, protected, safe, loved, understood. It’s to make us feel less alone, and like we matter. It’s to make a sound for someone to hear when we fall. It’s also how you tell when the person listening is giving you their attention: they’re listening, and replying with their silence instead of their voice.
Everybody wants to be heard. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one doing the talking or the listening, the reason for them is the same: to be heard. When you told your mate how god-awful your day was, you felt better perhaps because he had a more optimistic point of view. Your mate, may also have felt just as good because something he did mattered. He was heard, and you validated him because what he said changed the way you looked at your day and made you feel better. Of course, not all conversations have happy endings, some are more like playing with matches in a room full of wet dynamite. What matters is where our replies come from, how pure our intent is, and the emotion that is involved. But we don’t think of these things when we’re talking. We’re too busy getting things off of our chest and going to our mental file cabinets to formulate our replies.
Children love nothing more than to show off whatever it is that they’ve discovered to whoever will pay attention. Children love to be seen, and heard. That’s not something human beings grow out of, it’s something we grow into: the need to be seen, heard, and validated.
So, do we listen with the intent to understand, or to reply? Both. It’s a mutual exchange, and besides, we cannot reply unless we understand. Our mind just computes faster than the average person gets a sentence out. But that’s not really important. What is important is how we reply; the motivation behind our response. That’s where the real psychology of it is, not how we listen.
The last time I heard a tree fall, it sounded like an apocalypse; the roar of it echoing off the mountain walls like a thunderhead, branches snapping like the crackle of lightning, roots moaning out of the soil. Birds darted from the trees, animals scurried. You could even hear the mighty, tsunami whoosh of it falling through the air. It didn’t just make a sound, it roared with ferocity, leading me to believe that, in a Dick and Jane sense, we’re really no different than trees. It gives me a great sense of unity and almost relief knowing that despite our human idiosyncrasies, even a tree needs to be heard when it’s having a bad day.