It can sound like a quibble when someone points out that there’s a difference between hearing something and listening. Damn semantics! But there’s truth to that separation. Listening requires purposeful attention. Perhaps that’s why a leader of a group will shout, “Listen up!” before beginning an address. In arguments we sometimes can be accused of selective hearing or be told, “You only hear what you want to hear.” Tinnitus gets in the way of my hearing sometimes, perhaps that’s why I make a point of concentrating when someone is talking. I actually like moments when I can provide a listening ear to bring comfort. Regrettably, my sister used to think that the focus I brought to a conversation made me seem too intense for her liking.
My grade six teacher would challenge us to listen for specific changes in a piece of music to better understand what emotion the composer was trying to convey. Like my dad, he was very dramatic when he read us stories, lowering his voice so we would lean in to pick up his change of accent, or a whisper to invite suspense. He was definitely my favourite of all of my school teachers. As part of English studies, Mr. Stroud twinned us with a classroom in Newfoundland. We each had a pen pal, who we wrote to every second week. When their letters came back to us, we would learn to listen to the printed word and ‘read between the lines’ to find meaning. I think of Mr. S., whenever I watch the awesome teacher film ‘Conrack’, starring Jon Voight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTePeZag_yI
Being a good listener takes discipline and practise. Some have called it an art form. We’ve all been in a situation where someone has accused us of not listening, when really what happened was we failed to understand. I took courses in listening attentively during my training to be a Guidance Counsellor. In class sessions, we would pair up and role play scenarios. The goal was not just to gather the facts of the problem but also to relay to the other that we really understood what they were trying to say.
I have been challenged during COVID19 with my listening skills. It’s very clear to me that I listen to people with more than my ears. As I age my hearing has weakened. With mask wearing, I’ve realized how much I’ve depended on lip reading to bridge the gap of missed vowel sounds. I’ve watched more closely for changes in body language. All this attentive listening requires keen eyesight too, “Hold on I’ll get my glasses.” These Covid realities have made communicating more like work. It doesn’t help when my inner voice is sounding negative either. For stress relief I’ve been reminded that listening to nature breeds a calmer attitude. The breeze through the trees, a bird on a branch, waves on the shore or rain on the window will bring my focus back to what matters most. This moment can have healing sounds worth listening to.