Is Anyone Listening?

Last year, perhaps one of the most advertised, if the most sought after, was the Bose Noise Cancelling, Wireless Bluetooth headphones with Alexa Voice Control. Retail price: $339.00 on Amazon.

No, I did not buy it for various reasons. One, it’s well beyond my budget. Two, I don’t need it. Three, having lived in urban areas where threats often come from hearing it first rather than seeing it, I’d rather have all my senses available.

Sadly, in real life, everyone has baggage filtering headphones. In fact, I guarantee everyone in this world from Papua New Guinea to Paris listens with a filter in his or her head. Worst of all, I highly doubt anyone realizes they have such a filter ON all the time. They are like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon too. All they hear is Whah Whah Whah.

This past years has been a very contentious year from the pandemic, civil unrests, and of course, the US Presidential election. Everyone has taken to every platform to shout their opinions and try to shout down others with whom they disagree. “Cancel culture” became part of the lexicon.

A side note about “Cancel Culture”; this is nothing new. Four thousand years ago, Egyptian kings who rose to power in a new dynasty sometimes liked to remove all traces of the previous dynasty. They literally erased the hieroglyphs at the various temples. Fortunately for modern historians, they often missed a few places and thus preserved knowledge of the previous dynasty. Which dynasty did it and why is well outside the scope of this post. But basically, there is really nothing new under the sun.

Hieroglyphic carvings on the exterior walls of an ancient Egyptian temple

Whichever side you are on for whatever hot topic, I can also guarantee that the filters you have will one day eventually stop you from truly listening. I will also be the first to admit I have done that too. Besides, I don’t have to be on social media to have filters. At work and at home, I can be very tempted to listen to everyone with the filter called: “My intentions are always pure and yours are suspect.”

In 2011, I was introduced to what is known as “active listening.” After having spent so much time teaching, which is a one-way conversation, I needed to relearn listening when working in a team. Active listening teaches that rather than jump in immediately with your thoughts, spend some time repeating what the other person said to prove that you heard them right. Then proceed with your comments. What a lost art when we just tweet and post to Facebook!

If you wished to be loved, love.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Steven Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People captures “active listening” with Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood. It’s soooo easy for people to scream: “I want you to understand me/ my struggles. Don’t you want to know what it means to be X/ suffer Y/ have to deal with Z? I’m the victim here.” You fill in the blank for X, Y, and Z. While it sure sucks to deal with those problems, what if everyone else is screaming for understanding and no one is truly understanding?

Author Brene Brown has an interesting rule when it comes to sympathy and empathy: Never say “at least.” For example, Jane says to Tim: “I lost my job during the pandemic.” Tim replies: “At least you still have your health.” While Tim is trying to be comforting, Jane might think: “Seriously! I spent the last seven years there, which is a good part of my life. What about the loss of personal and professional relationships? There’s no dollar amount for that. There is no emotional upside of that!” In other words, Tim didn’t really listen to Jane, did he?

Saint Francis of Assisi once prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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