I believe in listening
I’ve learned to value listening because of two important aspects of my life.
First, I am legally blind. I am astounded at how much information I gain from the world by listening. I hate to wear a hat in winter, and don’t do so until Vermont temperatures get below 10 degrees. On a very basic level, I need to know where the cars are. I also use voices to recognize friends, since I have trouble telling if it’s a person or a post box at 20 feet, let alone recognizing faces.
Second, I am a musician, a singer and a fiddler. With my voice, and my instrument, my ear, not my hands or eyes, tell me if I am on pitch. And when I play or sing with others, listening makes all the difference. If I listen well, I keep in rhythm, moderate my volume or tempo, harmonize properly with the chords, and match nuances in a tune. There’s a magic when we get it right, and make music, not just ragged sound.
I am working to expand my listening to dealings with friends, family and community. Not easy for an extrovert and performer, but here’s what I’ve found so far.
First, I listen for the basics, what’s being said. “I’m cold” “I’d rather not eat cilantro” “I’d really rather have fewer people in my kitchen while I bake.” Sometimes the information is counter to what I expect or feel, and I have to work to honor the words. I need to adjust the thermostat even though I’m warm, I love cilantro but I don’t have to cook with it, and although I come from a family where we work in the kitchen in a big, noisy herd, that level of chaos makes some people drop and burn things and is not fun. After walking out in front of a few oncoming relationship cars because I didn’t listen to the words being said, I’m learning that it’s better to take people’s statements at face value. I certainly prefer such treatment. And no, I really don’t like mushrooms.
Then there’s the art of listening that turns a jam session into a band, conversation into a relationship, or an argument into a constructive community event. It involves truly attending, enquiring, double checking without second guessing, getting the timing right on silence and question, harmonizing to understand, rather than arguing for dissonance.
This conversation art form does not come naturally to me. It will be a life long effort and learning curve. I believe it makes an enormous difference in my relationships when I get it right. I certainly know how much I appreciate it when I am truly listened to. How would it be if we all did it, with our families, friends, even strangers? I think it’s worth it. What do you think? I’m listening.