There are at least a couple of types of listening:
1. Listening to feelings: “I feel your pain.” “I’m sorry you’re sad.” “I hear what you’re saying and I know that it bothers you.”
2. Listening to ideas: “I hadn’t thought of that.” “How do you figure that?” “I’m not sure how that would work.”
Both kinds of listening serve a purpose. #1 is useful for solving personal problems: repairing relationships, mending quarrels, dealing with emotional issues that you have the right to address. #2 is useful for when you’re solving broader problems, for dealing with abstractions and concepts, for making policy, for adjusting life views.
Perhaps because we’ve been conditioned to deal with a “masculine” societal bias, we are very familiar with the way people use Style #2 to silence people who need to be heard with Style #1:
“You have no reason to be sad. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“You hurt my feelings by saying this.”
“Why, when I’m just stating facts? It’s not my fault they upset you.”
But we also use Style #1 to silence people who need to be heard with Style #2:
“Oh, you’re sad (but you’re also wrong). I’m so sorry you feel sad: see? I listened to you. (But you’re still wrong.)”
All interactions have a context. Listening Style #1 implies a personal relationship, or an ability to map a personal relationship onto a stranger. The latter’s possible, but rare: I’ve seen it now and then in people who really mean it when they say that all men are their brothers. But in most people, my observation is that a stranger or acquaintance who wants to listen to my feelings is really just dismissing my issues while trying to make me feel like they care. They might really mean it, but they aren’t there to address what’s really concerning me… and once they’re done really listening to me, they will feel better about themselves for having made the effort and tell themselves they are free to move on without considering the things I’m obviously wrong about.
I don’t find it comforting, to have my feelings “validated” by someone’s attention if my ideas aren’t also considered.
It is a complicated thing, navigating human relationships and their intersection with social obligations and a commitment to harmony. I do not mean to imply otherwise (or that I am perfect at it, or even very good). But I have noticed a hunger in many people around me, who have been “listened to” and yet feel frustrated because they don’t feel heard. It’s because they haven’t been, not in the way they needed it. If you need your feelings heard, having your ideas addressed won’t sate you. If you need your ideas heard, having your feelings soothed will leave you feeling empty. There can be no substitution. And honestly there can be no true understanding without both kinds of listening… because ideas feed into feelings, and feelings affect ideas, and to unravel any of it you have to be good, good at listening to all of a person, not just the part you are comfortable with.
…and if there are feelings of unsafety in a community, it’s because people can claim to have listened to you (with one style or the other) in order to justify being able to attack you in the other arena.
We think we are so good at diversity, that we welcome it, that its gifts outweigh its costs. But I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the challenges of diversity, or just how much human programming we’ll have to overcome to see the benefits of embracing it. The only way society has survived diversity in the past is by remaining as ignorant of the differences in our neighbors as possible. Now that the internet has ushered in the era of unfettered sharing, I’m not sure how we’re going to manage. The more we know about each other, the easier we find it to separate into camps and go to war.
I pray that these are growing pains, and that we’ll win past them. But I also know I’ll be long dead before I know if that prayer went answered.
Mirrored from MCAH Online.
The comments there are also well worth a read. Also, I love how M C A Hogarth thinks and writes!
From one of my comments there:
I am trying to learn not to help/fix and just to listen. I also need to learn not to over-share my own experiences and just to listen.