"I hear everything you say!" That was the most frustrating line I heard as a child. Now, granted, I was probably like a broken record, and I was saying the same thing over and over and over again. I knew my mother was tired. I know now as a teacher, you can only hear your name so many times before you want to change it to anything other than what it is.
Regardless of what I did to garner that response, my frustration came because I was being heard not listened to.
Many of the problems we face are the result of being heard not listened to.
How many relationships have failed because of the lack of listening?
How many wars have started because of the lack of listening?
How many opportunities have been missed because of the lack of listening?
Over the next several posts, we are going to discuss the importance and power of listening as it impacts living, understanding, and storytelling.
The first step to better our understanding of listening is to define what it is by recognizing what it is not.
Hearing and listening are not the same things, but we often use the words interchangeably. Vocabulary is so essential.
Hearing is the physical act of taking in sound.
Hearing is essential to the work of the equipment. If you have ears and they work to the slightest degree, you can hear some noise. That is the extent of hearing. Noise happens, and you, through the miraculous design of the human body, consume that sound. That is hearing. That's it. Period.
Listening is processing sounds for meaning. When we process in the form of listening, we take the sounds in and try to make sense of them.
We are all wired to be storytellers. Jonathan Gottschall, in his book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Makes Us Human, says that our brains are so hungry for stories that we will subconsciously make stories up to satisfy our minds. For example, if we see chewing gum stuck on a piece of furniture, our mind will tell us the story of how it got there. True or not because we feel we must know. We say to ourselves, "You know I bet some kid got tired of chewing and just stuck that there..." "Look what some lazy person has done..." The scenarios we create in our minds feed us the stories we need. They are not right or wrong. We don't know how the gum got there, but our mind supplies us with narrative possibilities. We have an innate need to know.
Hearing and listening are not the same, but we must hear before we can listen.
Another example, a mother knows what her baby needs by listening to the sounds it makes.
She can distinguish the cries one from another. One cry means hunger; one cry means wet; one cry means pain. There is a cry for everything, but a mother knows.
To the nonparent, the cries could be irritating and sound like obnoxious noise.
The mother can interpret the noise to understand the needs of the child.
That's listening in its purest form.
This information seems simple and common sensical.
Often the simplest things are overlooked due to their simplicity.
It is essential to note that listening takes practice, and it just does not happen on its own.
The mother has experience knowing her child's sounds. The passerby does not.
As listeners, we must practice. We must take time to distinguish between hearing and listening, and we must listen to what is around us to interpret the message we need to understand.
There is so much we miss because we fail to listen because listening goes beyond audible sounds. We listen to our bodies, our conscience, our environments, and we probably do that without realizing it. The importance of listening is to do it purposefully.
When you are mindful in your actions, you will discover new meanings. New meanings lead to new experiences.
Over the next few weeks, we will raise our listening awareness.
Up next...5 Ways to Be an Active Listener
Charlie McCoin is a teacher, a traveler, and a storyteller who works to help people discover and tell their stories.