The “dying” art of listening

We need to find more considered ways to engage with the ordinary yet remarkable things found in life

Ayesha Hasan December 10, 2016
The writer has an interest in peace & conflict journalism and is based in Australia. She tweets @ayeshahasan08

“When I ask you to listen to me, and you start to give advice you have not done what I asked.” Talking is an art, but today listening is a bigger one; and one that needs a profound performance. An art, that’s dying fast.

There’s nothing more embarrassingly awkward than when you’re sitting among a group of people and being intercepted and spoken over when you have just begun to add something to an ongoing discussion. I have been observing this a lot, and more so now than three years ago when I lived and worked in Pakistan. The reason is one of the two: either people have become worse talkers or me a better listener.

Consider the fact that though majority of our day-to-day activities involve a lot of listening, yet most of us do not know how to listen. But then why aren’t we listening? For what I believe so, there are two major reasons: because we are not reading and we are not interested in other people’s stories for we are too full of ourselves and that what we believe is “true knowledge with absolute accuracy and authority over others’ viewpoints”. A person who does not read can never be a [good] listener, because reading, among other things, increases one’s stamina to listen to others and to understand, infer and pay attention to specificities. It teaches us how to be patient with other people’s views of the world, society and people; their idea and ideologies regarding cultures, politics, religions; their concepts of life and most of all the stories of their experiences. The social and cultural theory plays in full action when we listen to others and demonstrate that each individual has value and that we must listen to them to learn from their stories without stereotype.

In my four weeks here so far, I have listened to many people’s stories, but have failed to complete mine that I began to share as answers to their questions; their questions about life in Australia, my life in Australia, my doctorate, my choice of lifestyle, my choice of food and drinks, my parenting strategies and my tattoo. They all ask questions, but they don’t want to listen to answers, especially those backed with logic and reasoning. I noticed most of them like tales. They want to half-listen to stories that never exist, drifting my concern to ethical engagement, by both the speaker and the listener.

We need to find more considered ways to engage with the ordinary yet remarkable things found in life. This involves not just listening to others, but listening for a story. In his 2007 book, The Art of Listening, Les Back, a professor of sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and an author, addressed the role of sociology in today’s changing society as a science that listens to the public and the details of people’s lives without stereotype. During my conversations with diverse groups here that comprised both professionals and homemakers, I found myself in situations too often where I was stereotyped for my beliefs and ideas transcribed through the choice of my words only because they tied my “supposed” identity to my ethnic and religious backgrounds, which they listened to more than what I said. It was bad at times, and worse at others. I found their increasingly depreciating ability to listen to others and their increasing presumptions about everything a form of violence to society and human development, of which listening is a crucial skill.

This reminds me of Kathleen A Graepel of the County College of Morris, New Jersey, who in her article The “Art” of Listening (1975) has called listening “probably the most important skill one can have”. I cannot agree more. She writes that listening requires concentration, selectivity and condensation and that half-listening can cause serious problems. We have stories of pain and joy all around us, of achievements and losses, of power and the powerless, of use and abuse and in times of both extremes, people need ears that are [naturally]therapeutic, those with a response to those in pain toempower them to realize that their own healing potential lies within them. We naturally want to be listened to, but we are not doing it more often and our social media walls are crying of it every second. We are getting into arguments too easily and very conveniently imposing our points-of-view on others because everyone wants to talk and no one wants to listen.

Listening has been called an art for long, and rightly so. A skill, we need to develop quite early on in our lives, a skill that has to be put to test more often, both in our online and offline lives. For instance, you don’t have to agree with everything I wrote, but talk to me and I will listen.

The writer has an interest in peace & conflict journalism and is based in Australia. She tweets @ayeshahasan08

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2016.

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younus | 7 years ago | Reply Indeed this skill is lacking in our society and we need it the most.
Toticalling | 7 years ago | Reply The only good thing about people who talk a lot is that you know them inside out. If I Icompare those who say little and those who talk a lot, I can say those who do not open their mouth are either angels or Devils. And since the Angels are rare, I would say they are the second category. As for those who do not listen to you, there is always an option. You pay them back by ether changing the subject or walk out. That helps.
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