Listening: An Underappreciated Skill
"We don't think of listening as a profound act of respect." - Guy Raz, Radio Host and Journalist
But, it is! We are all guilty of the empty head nod while someone is speaking. We nod not out of agreement, but to appease them. It is an attempt at being respectful, but it is not entirely genuine. We are not really listening. Perhaps we are thinking of what they said earlier. Maybe we are planning what we will have for dinner. For others it may be what the best commute will be on the way home from work.
This is a human condition. Some would have you believe that the modern realities of digital distraction that force us to look towards our glowing screens has yielded a new era where we have an inability to listen. The same empty head nods and "uh-huh" comments that distracted 21st Century smartphone parents, may not be that different their 18th,19th or 20th Century counterparts. Even with articles like that by Alice Park in Time that draws attention to studies on how our gadgets can yield ineffective parenting, we have to raise a questionable brow. There are just too many aspects of a living, breathing being that can distract us: work, recreation, family, health, our grumbling belly, the weather, etc.
This skill of listening can not only enhance our relationships, regardless if they are personal or professional, it can benefit both our mental and physical health. Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is an advocate of mindfulness as a holistic tool for health.
Being conscious of our ability to narrow our attention is a challenge, especially if we have children or others we care for, a stressful professional life, or if we have a constant barrage of devices that beep, pop or ping their way into our awareness. The movement towards mindfulness, encourages not only the art of listening to others, but most importantly, to ourselves. Narrowing the competing interest for our time at any moment, has been and always will be a skill that must be cultivated.
The next time you hear a child repeat Mommy or Daddy for acknowledgment, consider your own ability to clean your mental clutter and zoom-in to someone seeking a chance to be heard and in essence, seen.