Learning to Listen

I was astonished to learn that we only retain 25% of the things we hear.  Not only does this further illumine the need for a variety of forms of communication - it also brings to light the need to cultivate effective listening.  Julian Treasure* suggests that listening is very important for many reasons, primarily because it helps us position ourselves in the moment, it roots us in time, connects to a place, situation and with other people.  He also suggests we need to be aware that our listening, the things we hear - the things we actually pay attention to, are those which make it through a complex web of filters.  These filters include: culture, language, values and beliefs, attitudes and intentions.  Whether we realize it or not, these filters which are by and large a function of worldview, operate in the subconscious and "tune us in" as sound works its way through our filters until it reaches our attention.

It seems many of us struggle to listen and Treasure proposes several reasons for this.  Consider that today the need to be able to memorize important information is greatly reduced because we are capable of recording things.  By contrast, consider the Oral Torah for example.  This oral tradition was passed from person to person, generation to generation orally - it wasn't written down for many centuries.  Therefore the need to listen and learn these important details of history and practice meant listening had a very high priority.  With the tool of writing, the need to listen was reduced because if you forgot - you could read it!  This is further compounded today by our ability to make audio and video recordings, and the ability to search and access them quickly.

  According to Treasure we are becoming weary of noise as a culture.  In a culture full of audio and visual stimulation, we are in fact over stimulated and the net result is fatigue!  Interestingly many have sought to escape this with the use of earphones which allows you to filter out the drone with something of your own choice.  The problem is, it effectively isolates one from the environment and other people.   We are also impatient.  We have a culture that wants what it wants and it wants it quick! Finally, the noisier and busier our world becomes the louder media needs to shout to get our attention. This demonstrates Treasure last point, we are becoming ever increasingly desensitized to the barrage of messages, images and sounds targeting us.

Treasure suggest 5 ways to improve our listening in today's world

  • Silence - This is an old discipline which has a great deal of health.  It allows us to be deliberately quiet, escape the phone, the iPod, email, television and remove a lot of the stimulation which in essence allows our ears and our mind to reset.  Treasure suggest just 3 minutes a day will help in the process.  I think you will also find it affective to reduce some stress.
  • Be Aware - When going about your day, be aware of the "channels" of sound which are happening around you.  Listen to a specific sound in the noise - a bird chirping, the noise of a fan, the sound of the various conversations (no eves dropping, ;)), be aware of the wind.  Try and isolate a number of different channels in the drone of the environment you're in.
  • Listen for the Rhythms - My wife had an MRI a year ago and while in the tube she was aware of the sound of the machine and its rhythm.  This can be done with a ceiling fan, a washer or dryer, the car tires on the street.  Enjoy the sounds of the typically mundane.
  • Listening Posture - Depending upon the various environments, we can mentally adjust the posture of our listening.  Our posture could be active or passive, reductive or expansive or critical or empathetic, and Treasure says there are other postures as well.
  • RASA is an acronym that Treasure uses as a practice to cultivate intentional listening. (the word Rasa meaning "essence")

R- ecieve: pay attention to what you are listening to.

A - ppreciate: give feedback to those you are listening to.

S - o...: summarize what you have heard and understood and allow them to clarify or correct.

A - sk: Ask questions to understand



*Julian Treasure.  TEDGlobal 2011, July 2011

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