Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Listening is Sacred

I have been writing about listening for a week or so now, and somehow I don't think I've really captured its importance. Yes it is a practical skill that can help you immeasurably in your job, your schooling, and your relationships, but it runs deeper than that. Listening to someone--really listening--is a sacred act.

When we really listen to someone, driven by a sincere desire to understand them, it is like we open up our soul and allow them to write on it. Communication is irreversible. We can't "un-hear" that which we have heard. It becomes a part of us and our perceptual process going forward. This can be kind of a scary thought. Listening makes us vulnerable.

When I open myself up to you, it is a leap of faith that what you are going to tell me will not only be true, but that you won't hurt me terribly. For there are things that you could say that could wound me to the core. So listening involves a deep sense of trust.

The twentieth century theologian and philosopher Martin Buber spoke of the "I-It" orientation and contrasted it with the "I-Thou" orientation. These are two very different ways of looking at, and dealing with, other people.

Someone working from an I-It orientation sees other people as things, to be used for their personal gain and discarded when finished with them We have all encountered these people in our lives. Phony friends who use us, bosses who take advantage of us, lovers who disappear with the morning light never to be heard from again. These folks get what they want and then discard us from their lives.

An I-Thou orientation, in contrast, is a very different way of perceiving the people in our lives. That word "thou" has quasi-spiritual connotations. The word simply means "you" but "thou" means so much more than the word you. Buber recognized that some people look at other human beings and see something Divine. This Divinity has nothing to do with the external trappings like money, possessions, or looks. It is a simple fact of your humanity. As a human being you are a wonderful creature, endowed with the qualities of your creator, and capable of spiritual transcendence. When we look at another with an I-Thou orientation we see that person in all their glory--even if they are dressed in rags.

As listeners we can do it with an I-It orientation ("what can I get from this person to improve my own lot in life?") or with an I-Thou orientation ("How can I help this fellow Child of God standing before me?"). At its best listening is closer to the latter than the former. Listening is a great gift we give another. When we stop what we are doing, look at the speaker, set aside our preconceived judgments, offer honest feedback, ask questions and really hear what they are saying we are engaging in something Divine.

The word "communication" comes from the Latin "communis", meaning "to be as one". When we really listen we are joined as one. We are communicating in the truest sense of the word.

That's all for today. Sorry to get deep on you. I only hope you get it. Listening is more than an effective behavior, it is a Sacred act. My life has been blessed because I take the time to listen. Try it for yourself and you will know what I mean.

Until next time, be well and speak well. And as always, thank you for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.