Listen to Yourself

By Chris Chittenden

"It’s one of those homely little stories that stick in your mind and stir up memories; a story that brought back something my father used to say to me: “Son, you’ll do all right in this world if you just remember that when you talk you are only repeating what you already know - but if you listen you may learn something."

… J. P. McEvoy (1897 – 1958) US writer

We often hear about the importance of listening and there is no real surprise as to why. Listening is a critical aspect of communicating with others, which in turn is a central aspect of relating to others. It is not hard to see that to have good relationships, we need to be good communicators and to be a good communicator, we have to be a good listener.

In the ontological approach, listening goes beyond such basic ideas as "active listening" techniques where we paraphrase back to someone to show them that we have heard what they have said. Although such an approach is useful, effective listening goes far beyond this.

When we are able to listen well to others, we open ourselves up to explore the way they interpret the world and more importantly the way they see themselves. Our listening is itself an act of interpretation as we look for their meaning and the context that would have them see things a certain way. We can look for their prejudices; their preferences; what is important to them in life; how they feel and so on. We can seek to understand them and their way of being and when we listen well, at some level we connect with them in their world and not just hear their words.

To achieve this, we have to put aside our judgements and ask the question, "what would have them see that this way?" This is not easy as our assessments will come to us as a conversation unfolds, particularly if the topic triggers our key concerns in life. Yet it is well worth the effort as effective listening opens up the possibility of a new way of experiencing the world.

So here is a question. Do you ever listen to yourself? Can you get behind what you think and say and understand your way of being? For most people, this is easier said than done as many people make frequent judgements, often negative, about themselves and what they do. Without some learning and practice, it is a challenge to want to listen to ourselves and then put aside our automatic responses, which may be the product of a lifetime. However, to do so offers great rewards in understanding ourselves and ultimately in finding a better way of being.

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© 2014 Chris Chittenden