After all those years of listening
I thought you'd know
what a story was.
- from "Retreating Light," Louise Gluck, 1992
Listening. What exactly is it, and why is it so important? Listening anchors the give and take of conversation. Listening is a process of distillation, finding meaning in the noises and voices around us; the first step in understanding.
I spent a part of my week recently engaged in listening. I happened to be present in conversations marking the growth of two human souls toward one another; a recipient of their trust, witness to that particular courage that begins in one heart and seeks echo in another. We listen in love even as we speak it. I have often thought of love as a verb - an action. Culture celebrates love in iconic art and imagery, but the bond of lasting love is more than a delicious emotional dust-up. In observing one couple speak heart to heart, I felt love expressed more akin to what affectionate partnership really is - relationship built brick by brick with chunks of understanding and epiphany.
The success of our communications begin in the wholeness of listening. Not wih "half an ear," formulating our thoughts as the other is speaking. Not on "a deaf ear," our minds made up without engaging. Attentive and focused, we effectively listen to one another only to the degree we understand all that is being said. And comprehensive understanding is no small feat. Language is complex, not always straight-forward but often nuanced, analogous, indirect. We listen with our emotional filters, our experience, assisted by our willingness to ask for more or better words to paint a clearer picture. It is common, I think, to discover some are better at communication than others. We inevitably find ourselves misunderstood, or unable to say precisely what we mean. In my role as listener, I realized fully hearing what is being said is the foundation of meaningful interpretation. We begin to process and apply understanding.
True listening is the first step. If I hear what you are saying, I am engaging with you in an authentic way. If you hear what I am saying, we are exchanging, sharing. In sharing we build connections. In connections, relationship. Now is the time to tell me your story. I am listening.