Listening… with more than our ears (Part 1)

Published in Features on 26 Jan 2015

What a year for Glasgow. Many of us felt the warmth and goodwill that animated the carnival atmosphere in the city during the Games, stretch beyond the referendum as a tangible urge to transcend the politics of competition, blame, beliefs and opinions. A welcome move away from ‘us and them’, towards just us, is visibly taking root and still the need to nurture our ability to communicate with openness, affection, wit and skill remains constant. It seems wise to meet this need with a broader, subtler definition of listening than we are used to. If we want society to develop into a more inclusive version of itself we will need courage to allow our view of what it is to be a human being to become far more solidly grounded in a perspective based on connection.

Einstein said the notion of an isolated self was an ‘optical delusion‘. Our eyes can easily deceive us into a collective misperception that we live separated from each other inside the skin of our body. Our world view, in the west, has been so coloured by this fragmented perspective of humanity that the notion of interconnectedness, with each other and our environment, is labelled ‘radical’. Money, clearly, still makes the world go round, on one level, and anything that presents a threat to this competitive, machine like system still meets resistance. That certainly includes the radical notion of simply pausing . . . in the midst of life, to offer ourselves and each other some attention. Giving and receiving attention is something we do with our whole brain, body and all our senses and is as innately human, and necessary for life to flourish, as sunlight and water are to any plant.

I would like to offer a wee… what if ?

What if our school system was underpinned by a new respect for the aliveness inside our children and our teachers. What if we took a step back from believing that we absolutely know what life is and instead, shifted our perspective to welcome the unknown . . . even just a wee smidge more. What if we supported the practice of pausing . . . regularly, throughout the day, to sense inside. What would our classrooms be like then ? I would stake my nonexistent life savings on this horse if we were to let it run. Much common ground already exists out there about the worth of making this shift away from academic achievement being the loudest voice in the room in our schools. This creative bite is limited and really just a toe in the water. I will say more next time.

In the recent film ‘the Imitation Game’, Alan Turing, responds to his school friend’s invitation to solve a puzzle by asking: “What’s the difference between that and talking?“. His character points out that we don’t say what we mean. Instead we are expected to know what other people mean.

Underneath our words we all have our own unique language and assumptions of understanding or expectations of shared meaning will not help us create connections or maintain relationships. Words themselves can easily get in the way too. In writing anything useful about listening it is always helpful to remember that it is perhaps only through experiencing the world beyond words, as we sense it within our body, that we may stumble on what many of us fish for throughout life ~ the company of meaning.