Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person.
~Rachel Naomi Remen, M. D.
Several years ago I called the electric company to report a buzzing sound I thought was coming from the utility pole outside. The repair man arrived, put on his belt, equipment dangling from its side, and climbed up the pole with his spiked shoes.
When he climbed back down, he told me he couldn’t find a problem. I was confused. Then, after he left, I went back in the house. There I realized I could still hear the sound. Then it came to me--the ringing was coming from me, from inside my ears--Tinnitus.
Once I recognized the problem, I adjusted. Most of the time I don't even notice it, but it's still there. Right now, for example, because it's quiet, I'm very aware of it.
So all the time, whether I'm aware of it or not, there's something blocking my hearing things exactly as they are. From what I've read there's no good treatment for this malady. One must simply adjust.
It occurs to me that there are other maladies that block one's hearing things exactly as they are. I have an occupational hazard that affects me that way. As a retired English teacher, when I am listening to someone I am immediately thrown off-course when they make what, to me, is a glaring grammatical mistake.
A friend could be pouring out her heart to me, telling me a tragic story of a broken relationship, for example, but if she were to say, "Things between Mark and I have never been the same since we moved," my brain would be stopped immediately at the pronoun I, and never hear the rest of the sentence. Others may be distracted by an accent, a skin tone, a head covering, anything that moves one back inside one's head and away from the speaker.
To truly listen is a very self-less act. It means putting away all one's agendas, priorities, foregone conclusions and opening up to the other person. It is not easy. Truly, when I hear another person say something that disturbs me, I tend to either immediately “correct” them or walk away and ignore them. Conversely when I speak and someone seems not to be paying attention, I feel my temperature rise.
We all want to be heard. We want to know that what we say is important, so if I walk away when you speak, and you ignore me when I speak, neither of us is heard, and both of us will be angry
Some have said that listening is truly an act of love. After last week’s election, it seems clear that we need, more than ever, to listen and hear each other if we are ever to learn to live together peacefully.