Lacking in listening

By Loydie Burmah |Contributing Writer| 

The very act of listening has become highly underrated.  

It has become easier to ignore someone than to engage in well-mannered dialogue where ideas, experiences and perspectives can be respectfully exchanged.  

It appears to me that most people are eager to speak, wanting to hear their own voice, than care about the content of their speech or whether or not the other person involved is breathing. 

Furthermore, listening to speech that one does not agree with makes it easier to derail conversations.  

Conversations become more about how one is offended and less about engaging in a thoughtful discussion where both parties are allotted opportunities to speak honestly.  

It seems that altering speech for the sake of palatability has become a defensive method of protecting oneself from potential verbal onslaught.  

It should be noted that this is not a matter of hurt feelings—or woe is me, for I am not being paid attention to! 

It is a matter of assessing how there is a lack of assigning a basic level of respect when conversing with someone.  

More often than not, the majority of conversations I’ve had seem like they do not meet criteria for what conversations should be.  

That criteria being: active engagement, respectful, thoughtful and honest dialogue.

It is as if someone is endlessly (perhaps mindlessly) blabbering to me as if I’m a non-sentient being that has nothing of value to speak of. 

I do not consider myself an expert listener, rather, a person who has had countless experiences where conversations are more one-sided than it would appear to be.  

Which, ironically, has led some people to compliment my excellent listening skills.  

Inadvertently, I would like to believe that I aligned myself with the theoretical views regarding dialogical communication posited by philosopher Martin Buber.  

Buber’s notable work “Ich und Du” (1923) discussed I-Thou and I-It relational processes, conversation and existentialism.  

When relating to another using an I-It approach, people are examined and treated as non-sentient objects to be experienced—not engaged with.  

“The man who has become conscious of I, that is, the man who says I-It, stands before things, but not over against them in the flow of mutual action,” wrote Buber. 

Objects are typically analyzed for their utility and disengagement between those conversing is created and established; one person is the subject (I), the other, the object (It).  

“Now with the magnifying glass of peering observation he bends over particulars and objectifies them and arranges them as scenery, he isolates them in observation with any feeling of their exclusiveness, or he knits them into a scheme of observation without any feeling of universality,” wrote Buber.   

Speaking from personal experience, I think that most “intellectual discussions” I’ve engaged in felt like selfish soapbox opportunities; in which I was a passive audience member (object). 

Buber proposes that when engaging with anyone, an I-Thou approach should be utilized.  

When employing I-Thou, a dialogical encounter occurs in which active participation between parties is established.  

Neither participants become objects for manipulation or consumption, rather subjects that are equally engaged, and not subsumed by one another. 

“If I face a human being as my Thou, and say the primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among things, and does not consist of things,” stated Buber. 

“I do not experience the man to whom I say Thou. But I take my stand in relation to him, in the sanctity of the primary word,” Buber. 

I have experienced far too many situations in which discussions involve inattentive, insincere and uncaring participants. 

Typically, those “conversations” either involve a technological device [being] used in one hand, empty eye contact along with nonverbals that signal disinterest or a drone-like monologue that ceases to end, like a horribly catchy, mainstream pop song.  

Listening should be an active service of engagement but some researchers would posit that it is situationally dependent, and must be adjusted and agreed amongst parties involved. 

In “The Science and Sanity of Listening,” Dr. Benjamin J. Cline argued that “the attempt to “be a good listener” by engaging in the activities that made one a good listener last time might fail because the situation has changed,” wrote Cline. 

Furthermore, Cline cited previous studies completed by numerous researchers which purport that there are numerous listening styles as well as mindful and mindless listening.  

Cline argued that because there are numerous variations of behavioral listening styles that must be considered defining “good” listening is essentially nonsensical.   

“The ideal of perfection is unattainable and while one should always strive to be a better listener, one will never be a perfect listener,” wrote Cline.

I agree with Cline to an extent; the very idea of listening is difficult to truly understand and master.

However, that should not discourage one from mindfully staying engaged—regardless of the behavorial type, situation or discussion had. 

It is how basic connections are established and relationships are formed. 

If one can have the attention span for a six second Vine video, one should be able to have an engaging discussion for at least five minutes. 

Although it is impossible to be a perfect listener, it is imperative to realize and understand that listening is a skill worth continuously cultivating. 

If not, I imagine it will become to difficult listen to oneself.








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