Listening and Learning

Life happens while we are having conversations with ourselves and other people.

Not learning from others may have a lot to do with not truly ‘listening’ to what others say. Listening is the context that makes life intelligible, allows anything to have meaning, and forms the basis for all communication (both written and spoken). It is a whole lot more than just ‘hearing’ the words that are spoken. I’m always listening, always bringing a prior interpretation or understanding of my world to every situation I encounter or can imagine encountering. So when I say someone is closed-minded, I’m really saying they aren’t listening. When I say someone is open-minded, I’m implying they are open to listening to something they don’t already have an answer for.

This is the most basic aspect of being a human being I know.

In our modern Western culture, most of us don’t take and act on the wisdom and experience of our parents and grandparents. I wonder what our listening must be to so easily disregard their contributions? Whenever I’m listening, I question whether it’s myself or my ego that’s doing the listening. Am I more committed to learning or to being right about all that I have learned so far?

When I’m saying “Yes, but…” to the gems of wisdom all around me, I’m really resisting what is offered, arguing with the truth and attempting to justify my own point of view. I’m essentially listening to myself, my own history, my beliefs—scanning for evidence and examples to prove I’m right and any other view is essentially wrong (or at least not relevant to me). If I am ever to learn anything, I can only do so by listening to others—and when I commit to doing so, the other person’s ‘truth’, ideas and beliefs appear as a threat to my ego.

Now that I am older, I have no problem accepting other’s wisdom as truth and can even act on much of it. Yet I still resist—but it’s not what is being offered that I refuse to accept. I resist letting go of my ego, for accepting another point of view feels a little like dying (or so it seems to my ego).

I see aging as a possible way of learning to die, a way to learn how to live life based on a commitment to Being myself rather than living life to protect my ego. And I consciously choose to learn from others now…

What if young people could learn the distinction between listening and hearing earlier and therefore choose a life based on possibility instead of one based on resistance?