Are You Giving Yourself Your Ears?

I read Ralph Nichols quote: “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Then I felt good that I am in the business of meeting the most basic human needs: listening for counseling has given me the privilege of listening to people’s stories.  However, my kids used to complain how I listened to them while working on my computer or doing other tasks.  I used to give them the impression that I would not give them my undivided attention though my claim was ‘I was multi-taskingJ’.

I also read another quote by Paul Tournier: “Listen to all conversations of our world, between nations as well as those between couples. They are for the most part dialogue of the deaf.”  This means unsatisfying communication is rampant in our society: in relationships between spouses, parents and children, among neighbors and co-workers, in civic and political life, and between nations, religions, and ethnicities. The whole world is craving for understanding yet we are mostly rubbing in a wrong way.

Listening is a skill we develop by paying attention.  It has many benefits at the personal as well as interpersonal levels.  Apart from enhancing relationships with others, listening expands our knowledge, helps best solve problems, aids in negotiations, reduces mistakes and misunderstandings, and enables us to be enlightened in all business situations.

Nevertheless, why is it difficult to exercise listening? I want to dig further and learn what the underlying problem is.  The answer did not lie outside us.  It is within us.  Before we do for others, we need to make sure that we have it within us, so I asked, “Are we listening to ourselves? What does our body tell us? What does our attitude saying? What do our feelings indicating? What connection needs are we neglecting? Are we listening to the different parts of ourselves and taking action based on what our senses, mind, connections, emotions or dreams telling us?

The dysfunctional relationships are deeply rooted in our lack of self-awareness and compassion to our own needs.  When we listen to our needs, we can separate ours from others’ needs; we have boundaries and courage to say “No!” to something that does not serve our humanity. David Rome and Hope Martin in their training on mindfulness, state that paying more attention to ourselves in order to better communicate with others may sound paradoxical but without some clarity in our relationship to ourselves, we will have a hard time improving our relationships with others. A clouded mirror cannot reflect accurately. We cannot perceive, receive, or interact authentically with others unless our self-relationship is authentic. Likewise, until we are true friends with ourselves, it will be hard to be genuine friends with others.

Not listening to ourselves can be manifested in different ways.  For instance, if we try to control others, it is an indicator that we are feeling empty and not paying attention to our needs to love ourselves properly and hence wanted to fill in that insecurity by controlling and dominating others.  On another note, a ‘healthy’ person who lost his immune system to fight disease without apparent reason may not have listened to his body demanding for rest and reducing stress.  Listening to ourselves and to the underlying meaning of indicators will equip us to listen to others and the messages they convey.

In daily life interactions, the two sides of this equation are equally important. We want to be open and spacious to really hear others; at the same time we are tracking our inner responses and noting when something does not feel right. Noticing this before we say or do something will help not to trigger a negative upsurge in others. In fact, because human beings automatically alter our behavior to synchronize with those we are interacting with, the quality of our listening supports the other to be more present, at ease, and authentic.

Another thing to listen to or notice is the way we interfere with our own growth and freedom.  If we do not listen to the senses of our body, contact unresolved, stuck, or wounded places in our life and to hold them with self-empathy and make peace with our past, we will not be free to listen to others with empathy for it interferes ours with them.  Hence, listening to ourselves in multifaceted ways help enhance our understanding of others.

I read a wonderful saying, “Who doesn’t go with time, goes with time,” and would like to apply it to what I am saying.  Unless we focus on the present and the timely message it conveys through our body senses, thought patterns, feelings or acted behaviors, we perish through the maze of misunderstanding. If we do not listen to our selves, the way we listen to others is with distortion, projecting our interest on others.  That is why we all need to keep on working on ourselves to have a better understanding of others.  When we can address our needs, our listening will not be about us; rather it will be about others whom we communicate with.  That way, we can improve our relationships, become more productive and are in a better position to understand the world around us.

In the first Saturday of November, AWiB held a roundtable discussion on ‘Deep Listening.’ I learned that we can listen reflectively when we learn how to differentiate our needs from others, see how our values, interests, background, life events, life exposures, and influencers in our lives framed our thinking and unconsciously listen to others with our frame on.  In fact this is what prompted me to write about how our success in life is rooted in listening.  Because in listening, there is understanding and then action is embedded in them.

Life’s ever changing texture of relationships can only be addressed if we listen to one another but we can only do that if we listen to our inner world.

Are you listening to yourself?

By Seble Hailu