I’ve just got out of a creative writing class with my three 10th graders. It was a highly interactive session with discussions based on an opinion essay I had given them as an assignment. The one-hour class extended to an hour and 45 minutes, and boy, did I have a good time listening to their intuitive ideas!
This is how my classes go, with robust thought-exchanges to which I listen with the keenness of an explorer. I remove my thinking cap, park my perceptions, and allow the children to present their thoughts. I interrupt only to throw in a question now and then to steer the conversation in different directions. I tender a willing ear, not allowing any of my own ideas to interject their views. And they speak, baring their hearts, because they know that I am listening, appreciating every bit of their ingenuity.
Perspectives flurry back and forth, with not a speck of acrimony or impatience to beat down the others. There is so much involvement and acceptance among them that by the end, they turn wiser and more clued up about the topic of the day. And what do they gain from the whole exercise? Clarity about things we often ponder upon but don’t get anywhere near a closure. The final winner is not a participant, but the art of listening that facilitates the smooth flow of thoughts without stumbling over untimely interruptions and presumptuous assertions.
Listening - it is an art we are slowly losing to our zealous desire to be heard over the millions of voices echoing around. We have become hard of hearing by choice in a cacophonous world, and that is an irony. So much din with no one to pay attention to. So, who are we talking to? And why aren’t we listening?
Human mind is the loudest and the most disruptive noise in the world, and what makes it so difficult to ignore is the power we give to our inner ramblings. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the voice of our minds. We develop so much attachment with our
perceptions that we preclude anything that isn’t in tune with it.
Our love for our own theories, our unstinted faith in our judgments, and our refusal to allow foreign ideas into our space makes listening a lesser trait that we believe we could do without. It is good to be steadfast in our mind and know what our core beliefs are, but when we ignore the voices outside, we are limiting ourselves like the proverbial frog that thought the world began and ended with the well. Our refusal to listen to divergent views exposes our deep-seated prejudices and conceit. It is the ultimate pointer to our indomitable egos that will settle for nothing less than an unchallenged acceptance of our viewpoints.
Those who enjoy a good argument get involved in meaningless diatribes, and those who don’t, switch their hearing aids off and let the other man air his views to no avail. Either way, there is no exchange of useful information or ideas that could expand our horizons and help us take better decisions in life.
Our lack of listening skills has begun to shrink our mental and emotional territories, cramping us in narrow ideologies. We are becoming more and more polarized and intolerant as people, and our inability to accommodate differing views is turning us into islands of haughty homo sapiens.
Pay heed to other voices because you never know from where the next big solution to our combined troubles will emerge. Our options in life might lay in someone else’s head, and when we listen, we realize that there is a bit of us in every other person, and a bit of them in us. We understand our dilemmas better when we listen to their versions and interpretations of life.
When we keep an open mind, bracketing our own ideas for a while and keeping our judgment at bay, we will see how many different ways there are to make this mortal journey pleasurable. When we control our urge to refute, defend or deflect outright, and allow patience to settle in, we will know that we all have the same kinds of delights and disappointments, and the same destiny to deal with.
It is only when we are willing to listen to different sources that we will become aware of the universal story of mankind and find creative ideas to solve this massive jigsaw puzzle. Else, all we would have in our lives is a lot of sound and fury that in the end would signify nothing.