Recently I came across a statement of Friedrich Nietzsche (yes, the German philosopher who also said “What does not kill you makes you stronger”) – “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”.
Initially I quite liked the statement. Those who do not hear and listen to something so beautiful and emotional like music (they are obviously not cool and do not have fun) condemn the awesome people who enjoy and treasure the dance of life. And, of course, I was in the group of the quirky people.
On second thoughts, I was not so keen on the proposition. Actually, I found it divisive and dogmatic. It says that there are only two ways to react if you listen – to dance and be cool or to brand those different from you insane.
What happens if you listen to music and enjoy it quietly? What if you listen to music and sing-along? What if dancing is not good for your body and soul?
This brought me to the big subject of the art of listening. We all want to be heard but we do not listen. Why is that? Is it only the listener who is to blame?
Communication is a two-way process and let’s look at the reasons we do not listen.
1. We do not listen because we are thinking what we will say when the speaker finishes talking. Human beings are selfish and our opinion is more important to us than the other’s – that’s life. However, there are also other contexts when our words could have significant consequences , so rehearsing them in our mind instead of listening is what we do.
2. We hear the speaker through our conscious or unconscious prejudice. Maybe we do not like the appearance, the accent, the manners, etc of the speaker. (Incidentally, I am very proud of my post “Let’s celebrate the accents”. Yesterday i read a newspaper article which not only confirmed my conclusions but announced the commencement of a major project into accent bias.: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jun/12/accent-discrimination-is-alive-and-kicking-in-britain-study-suggests).
3. We are genuinely not interested in the subject – we know much more on the subject, we have heard the speech many times, we do not know why we are there.
4. The pace of speaking is not right – it is speedy or it is very slow. If the speech is quick we cannot not process it, if it is very slow we lose the will to live (reference: work or club meetings)
5. The language is too complicated or intolerable.
6. We are tired or even exhausted. Listening requires mental energy and physical or mental tiredness is a barrier to listening.
7. We are in flow – doing something that absorbs us, something that we are passionate about and don’t want to stop and listen to the distraction.
8. We listen but what we understand is different to what was said. The reason is being we subjectively process the words through our own experiences and values.
9. The environment is very noisy and it is difficult to listen.
10. We disagree with what was said and stop listening.
Poor speaker! George Bernard Shaw (Irish play writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925) describes it beautifully: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.