Listening is a valuable skill

This isn’t about one thing in particular, more a variety of things with one thing in common. Not listening.

I was always taught growing up that being able to speak and make yourself heard was important, I was as painfully shy child so it was something I got told a lot in an attempt to get me talking more. Then over the years I’ve heard so many times that people need to speak up, use their voices, etc.

And this is all hugely important, but completely useless unless people also learn to listen, or we’re all shouting over one another trying to be heard.

I remember “debates” at school which consisted of almost Parliamentary style cheering and jeering, which succeeding in making the one being cheered feel good and the one being jeered feel bad, but did nothing for reaching agreements or compromises, instead it meant people became more entrenched in opposing viewpoints. It also meant that those who agreed with points on both sides were accused of “sitting on the fence” (notice how “sitting on the fence” is never meant in a complimentary manner) and pressured to pick a side. Never mind that hearing both sides is the best way to find compromises and solutions, or at the very least clear up misunderstandings and maybe change minds.

And it’s not just in debate areas. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know my daughter has had some health issues, so we’ve spent a lot of time seeing various doctors and specialists. My son also spent a fair amount of time with doctors in the first 6 months of his life thanks to a milk intolerance. Both times we’ve struggled to be heard, either because the information we were giving them was at odds with the diagnosis they’d already come up with, or because they’d read on the notes that both parents have mental health issues. Whatever the reason, we were often ignored entirely, even talked over. I know with both children their health could have been improved sooner if we’d actually been listened to.

There also seems to be a problem with people thinking they are listening when they aren’t, not truly. This is a harder one, I don’t claim to be any better at it than anyone else, and try to catch myself when I’m doing it. We tend to selectively take in information, it’s something we all do. We pick and choose from the huge amounts of info out there, disregarding those things we already disagree with and taking on board those we already do agree with. Which is understandable and universal, but often causes bigger and angrier disagreements than might be strictly necessary.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but I’m Pagan, and have often found myself discussing spellcraft with other people. Before all the sceptics shut this window down in disgust, I actually agree with you. There is no magic (or magick), but there is psychology at play. If someone does a spell for luck then chances are they are no more lucky than usual, but it has changed their perspective. Whereas before they’d probably convinced themselves they were having a string of bad luck, maybe they even were, they’d become blinkered to any incidents of good luck that happened to them. Everything was being seen through a filter that meant they were only seeing the bad things as those affirmed their idea that bad luck was following them. By doing a spell for good luck they changed the filter, now they believe good things will happen to them, and so they are seeing the things that prove them right, while disregarding the incidents that do not back up their beliefs. They aren’t consciously doing this usually, but it’s still having a massive impact on them.

When people initiate a dialogue where they already expect X to be proved, then they will see evidence to support it and disregard anything else. They only listen selectively.

I saw someone online when confronted about not listening respond with, “I am listening, I’m listening to those other people, not you”. So yes, listening, but only selectively, and only to views that echo the views they already held. They weren’t open to new information or finding middle ground, in fact they were distancing themselves from any middle ground.

This happens in all kinds of situations, and can often result in those with opposing views also moving their arguments further away from the middle ground too. It’s destructive and could be avoided, it may going against our normal reactions to deliberately listen to views at odds with our own, but not doing so doesn’t seem to lead to anything but anger. It can also lead to trying to silence views that are disagreed with, rather than engaging with them. And forcing those in the middle to move further to either side, polarising things further still. Which is never going to help anyone (unless there are people benefiting in some way from the conflict).

I know I’m going to make more of an effort to actively listen, and learn. This doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily change my views on everything (or anything), it may mean strengthening those views. But I want to strengthen my views by seeing how they stand up against opposition. And I want to find compromises and common ground. Or at least I want to find out how those I disagree with think so I can counter them and maybe change their minds instead.

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