I’m trying to listen.
Not to something or someone, but to simply embody the art of listening.
Listening is a lot subtler than we make it out to be. To truly listen, we must momentarily forgo all of our knowledge. Having an empty mind is necessary to truly listen, otherwise our predetermined opinions and beliefs disallow us from hearing another side of the story.
This is a tragic thing, because learning only occurs through listening, and learning is necessary to improve ourselves as human beings (as well as improving society at large).
Jordan B. Peterson explains this quite nicely:
“In order to stay adapted to reality, not only do you have to have a viewpoint, but you have to engage in a process of modifying that viewpoint. The way that you engage in the process of modifying that viewpoint is continual minor adjustment as a consequence of paying attention.”
I’m not saying that we should not have opinions. Having opinions is a part of being human. What I’m saying is that we should not be fully identified with those opinions. When we identify with an opinion, when the opinion gets attacked we feel as though we have been attacked on the most intimate and personal level.
This is a disaster.
If we take adverse opinions as personal assaults, we have no way of determining what is actually true. Understanding the reality of a particular situation is like a negotiation with our own ego. We see how many of our fixed notions we are willing to let go of in order to see as clearly and lucidly as possible.
We must pay attention, and give that attention at least as much credence as we give our own viewpoints (if not substantially more).
“So, for example, let’s say you are having a conversation with your wife or friend, and maybe it is a difficult conversation. There’re a couple of ways that conversation can go. One is that you can take your viewpoint and impose it upon that person, and often when people are talking that is what they are trying to do. They’re not having a conversation. What they are doing is attempting to impose a viewpoint that they already hold dear on the person that’s listening. If they are a tyrant or a bully, they’ll do that and pay no attention to the person’s response.”
We cannot be that rigid if we wish to cultivate ourselves as human beings, or furthermore, if we don’t want to be malevolent weasels.
Things can go from bad to worse if we continue imposing our opinions onto others without constantly assessing if our statements contain any truth.
In other words, we have to “check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.”
“Is there an alternative? The alternative is to pay attention and to listen, on the off chance that the person talking to you might tell you something that you don’t know. But in order to listen, you have to already be convinced that the little theory you are using to orient yourself isn’t good enough, because if it was good enough, then why would you bother listening?
So, you have to be deeply aware of your own ignorance. That’s what humility means, to be deeply aware of your own ignorance. It means to make the presupposition that you still have something left to learn, and that this annoying person in front of you might have something to teach you if you would just listen.”
We always aspire for greater understanding—that is, unless we have come to be confined by our own belief systems and biases.
When we dissolve those biases, those limited assumptions about how things are, then our inherent curiosity and zest for higher knowledge comes into being. This is our nature—to pursue a deeper, more useful understanding of what is going on. (So long as this desire remains unsuppressed by misplaced convictions or an illusory sense of certainty.)
If we break through this thick crust of egotism, this heavy coating of self-righteousness that dwells on the surfaces of our minds, then the sky’s the limit for our potential.
This is only achievable through the art of listening.
To constantly modulate our perceptions of other people is to work together in a beautiful and effective way—one conducive to unveiling of truth.
“So, let’s say you are discussing a problem, and a ‘problem’ is a time when the things you think aren’t working. That’s what constitutes a problem. So you have a little problem, and let’s say you are discussing it with your wife. She offers you her opinion. You can listen and think, ‘Oh, I see, there’s a micro-correction I need to make in one of the peripheral elements of my belief.’
It’s a little painful, because it means you have to let something go, your presumption, and then you have to be a little chaotic to adjust to the new information, and then you reconstitute yourself. Interestingly enough, that means you have to make a sacrifice.”
This seems to be a sacrifice worth making, for if we actually listen to and hear the other person, we take our place in an existential communion. This communion is the benchmark of all human development.
There is nothing more powerful than an agreement between two human beings, as the spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson has said on many occasions, and in this we should always strive for a quality of agreement, so long as it doesn’t conflict with our deepest intuitions.
In truly listening to another person, we are honoring their existence, and this is the very essence of love.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Callie Rushton