Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Art of Aggressive Listening -- by Ralph Smeed

Many folks seem to view the act or art of listening in much the same manner as some ancient religions or cults look upon the act of having their photograph taken, i.e., with trepidation if not extreme alarm.  It is as if a portion of their (intellectual) soul is thereby being siphoned away, to be lost forever to some mystical, competitive or even hostile force. 

In actual fact however, the genuine act of listening is not only not a loss of soul, it is not even passive.  Listening can be seen as an overt act of seizing an opportunity together with another human consciousness to share a coped for awareness along a certain direction, or search for truth, with the goal in mind of welding TWO consciousnesses into one larger, more perfect consciousness or awareness.  Thus light instead of heat, which is the only way possible to effect a new awareness. 


So rather than a "giving up" or "yielding the floor" the act itself, of listening, is actually a gain.  It is not merely a necessary requirement of communication with others in the only true sense of communication.  It is the stance of learning itself.  It should not be confused with the act of talking which our egos, being too eager, often mistake for communication.  Unfortunately, for what might be termed radio-like broadcast communicating to be matched with one's "receiver" one must "tune in" with the other person on an oft-times difficult wave-length.  One must be, or appear to be, genuinely eager to listen to or learn from the other person, if (repeat, if) that person is to be communicated with in the highest and best sense of the word.


This seems to me to be a necessary correlation one must make if one is to understand what Leonard Read has been trying to express (teach?) for so many years, that "the problem of restoring the American dream of freedom is not a teaching problem, as generally perceived by most all of us, but rather a learning problem."  (Now then, that may well be the most radical suggestion you have ever hear, and an ever so true one when seen in this light.  Agreed) 


To use one of Leonard's phrases a step further:  "Finding words for common sense" --- learning, in this sense, is not so very common, nor is it so easy as just running off super-enthusiastic verbalizing, however swiftly, voluminously and, or intensely sincere.


If the above makes an sense at all the act of listing perhaps should be defined as "learning", in which case, if this be true, listening may well be the most effectively overt: heretofore seeming to be that comforting or satisfying sensation accompanying only the talking-half of communicating or aggressive part of the act or the art of communicating.


It should not be seen as merely half of a two-way act.  In fact, it may very well be the most important half, so to speak, of a one-way act.  


All of which is not to say that those well-meaning, if misguided souls whose zeal, sincere and intense as they very well may be, have anything to do with the art of listening ─ in the above sense.  All of us have experienced those missionaries from everywhere whose divine revelations on every subject in contention from alpha to omega motivates them to hesitate their torrent  of words only to catch their breath for a mere hesitation in yours, so to begin their flood again.  It is often as if the qualitative theory of inquiry in discourse had no beginning and the quantitative one no end…  As frustrating and futile as such verbal exchanges always must be the act of listening can be looked upon as another dimension entirely, although even here it can sometimes actually offer the best response, if indeed one be indicated.  This is because if such a desire is sought at all it need only be sought by one party --- if necessary.


Certainly, it is far better if both parties to the exchange be so inclined, but it is not necessary.  (Perhaps the Lord also had in mind something akin to this when he offered his well known, if little understood: "turn the other cheek."  One's ear isn't far from one's cheek, is it?)  And anyway sometimes it is not convenient just to walk off.  So what better way to devastate one's opponent, adversary or over-zealous discussant, than to listen him (or her) into submission?


An then, too, there's Leonard's ever so propitious allusion to listening:  (if everything else fails this always works):  "I make it policy not to talk to anyone unless he is trying to learn something from me, or I from him.  You'd be surprised how much unnecessary, even unpleasant conversation such a policy cures."


 Still, if listening be looked upon as an aggressive act it can be a truly great way to win a battle sometimes even the war in the competition of words ─ the place the violent wars usually begin.  And as Leonard has pointed out "it's the man who strikes the SECOND blow who starts the fight."  This is ever so true when one responds to a ridiculous assertion.  Of course, one can always respond to a ridiculous assertion.  Of course one can always respond by asking a question, but sometimes this seems to imply your seeming to be ignorant, it shouldn't, but if it does ─ try listening aggressively.  Who knows, you might even learn something.


 And if you do it with some real patience ─ and a smile ─ or maybe a grin, it may catch your opponent off guard, where upon, if you've done your homework, you can even defend your learning, which you probably got by listening ─ aggressively.


Signed  -- Ralph Smeed


P.S.  [By the way, if a sub-title were to be used on this main essay we might also use another one of Leonard's ever so apt phrases, namely "intelligent curiosity".]

P.P.S.  I wonder, my friend, so long as gov't is perceived as a "religion" more or less, doesn't it follow that it is futile (more or less) to "offer" or plead for less gov't., (i.e.,  as if asking God to do less)?  Think about it --- and how to make the point, or even to speak openly about it, if we are perceived as in a kind of blasphemy.


"One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears --- by listening with them." -- Dean Rusk              



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