Friday, June 29, 2007

Listening (the Other Side of Language)

How well do you listen, really listen to someone? Can just the act of listening help someone? How about save a life?

I asked these questions to a class of 8th graders once and the response was interesting. I’ll give the teeniest bit of background first – I was specifically told that this lesson plan on listening wasn’t appropriate for my class and that 8th graders knew about listening. The administration told me it wasn’t a skill I should be focusing on. These were kids in the South Bronx. I taught it anyway. (I was only there for a week anyway)

At first, the children were confused. What was this about listening? Could it heal? I asked the kids to make a list of what they listen to. It was the normal things, music, their mother, their teacher. Then they got slightly more abstract – the religious tried to listen to God, others listened to nature, to their surroundings. Then I asked if anyone listened to themselves.

There was complete silence. Finally a boy asked how you can listen to yourself.

“I knew it!” I screamed internally, “Everyone needs to learn how to really listen.”

So we talked about our thoughts for a bit, what goes on in our minds. If you are always just listening to others, and not yourself, who are you really? Just a mirror or an individual? I didn’t phrase it like that, but the point of the lesson was that there is as much if not more discovery in silence then in noise and that Listening is a strong power to have, it can even heal.

After the kids began to ‘listen to themselves’ and write out some thoughts I had them think, really think about how just them listening has helped someone and how that made them feel. Finally a girl spoke of how she listened to her sister after a bad break-up, and her sister thanked her for it.

“So how did it make you feel?” I asked.

“Well, I didn’t think I really did anything at first, but now I guess I helped her, didn’t I?” she replied.

Slowly others began to talk about how much better they feel when people listen to them, and times when they stopped talked and just listened to their friends and family.

Then came my favorite, the smallest boy in the class told me that his grandma has asthma or emphysema, I forget which, and that he runs and gets her medication when her breathing changes. He never realized it before.

“So you can save her life just by listening?” I asked

He beamed, “yeah, I guess I do, I get her inhaler at the right time. She doesn’t have to ask.”

In areas such as the South Bronx many of the kids feel powerless. They are shuffled in and out of foster homes and youth centers or from aunt to aunt. The poverty is horrendous and there is no continuity of education. The sense of helplessness, weariness, fear, and confusion hangs thick in the air. Before I did my lesson there was a shooting around the corner from the school that killed a ten-year old girl. Desperation is huge.

What I like to think these kids learned is that they do have power within them, and they have an intelligent mind that they should trust. At least the one boy realized he has saved a family member through something he took for granted – his own ears.

Listening is about more than just being quiet though, it’s an active process. The book Momo by Michael Ende is a wonderful treatise on the power of listening. The heroine is so adept at listening, truly listening to people that she not only brings them out of their shell but, in the end, saves the world.

I strive to be as active a listener as I can. It’s not easy, my internal dialogue is always churning. However, language is useless if it stands alone, there needs to be someone else out there who can listen. But for those who feel they can’t speak, they need to understand that the power to listen is just as strong.

How different would the world be if people tried to be active listeners? If people heard, not just the cries, but the joy as well? When confronted with the same thing over and over people tend to become numb and just stop listening. There is danger in that, in assuming the world is one way and will always be one way. It means you’ve stopped trying, you’ve stopped listening.


The Real Mother Hen said...

Excellent blog. And excellent work!

david mcmahon said...

Hi Victorya,

I firmly believe that the greatest gift of all is not being able to speak to others, it is being able to listen to others.

We certainly see eye-to-eye on that.

Thanks for a wonderful post.

Shall we put each other's sites on our respective blogrolls? Do let me know ...



Victorya said...

Thanks mother hen!

And David, oh my, I'd be honoured! so honoured in fact, I spelled it with a 'u' :D

I'm glad others out there see the importance in listening, it needs to be taught more often.

Paper Fan Club said...

What a wonderful idea to teach listening skills to schoolkids! Just think if it had been part of the curriculum when today's world and business leaders were still in school...

Victorya said...

Oh paper, that would have been wonderful, no? If our leaders actually knew how to listen. Such a pleasant dream. . . .

Amel's Realm said...

Another wonderful post, Vic!!!

You can make such positive difference in the kids' lives. That's AWESOME!!! KEEP UP THE EXCELLENT WORK!!!

Listening IS such a powerful tool to have and keep, esp. in this super busy world.

heavenabove said...

Funny you posted this at this time. I woke up this morning thinking about the power of listening and how I wished I had parents that would listen to me-not just hear my words. With my own daughter (6 1/2 right now), I strive to actively listen because I know it is key to her well-being.

Being able to talk about your thoughts is good and needed but without the support of others who are really listening it doesn't matter much. Your listening lesson was a great idea and I think it needs to be taught far more often, including to adults. Listening can save lives.

Getty72 said...

Hey Victorya...what an important post. I truly agree with you. Nowadays, too many people don't actually listen, they just wait for their turn to speak. People should remember that when people talk to you, sometimes they do not need you to answer them, they just want to be heard and understood. Keep up the great writing!! Kindest regards ~ Graham