If we are to survive in the twenty-first century we must become better communicators1

’Listening’ is not univocal: ’listening’ means many things. Listening is not done in just one way: there are many ways to listen.

It is easy enough to perform varying degrees of pseudo-listening. The ways to listen that leave you open to another, that nurture disinterested compassion and genuine, reciprocal understanding – these are very hard for me.

Ways I listen on the regular:

Appropriative listening

We can listen for ideas, feelings, circumstances that we already know, that interest us, that fit our current understanding. I think of this as identifying patterns in my own thinking/feeling/life that map onto what the other is communicating.

In this mode of listening, we assimilate the feelings and ideas voiced by the other into what is familiar to us. We risk missing what may be very different and deeply alien. We are prone to fixating on the first familiar fragments, assuming this lets us understand the whole. But this can actually deafen us to all the nuances and differences of the broader context, which actually invalidate our assumptions.

A common result of this kind of listening is that we latch on something the person said which makes sense to us, and then (more or less subtly), we change the conversation to be about whatever it was that we identified with.

Self-involved listening

We want to help. We especially want to help those we care for due to strong connections. So we may listen to see how we can help solve their problems, how we can further their aims, or how we can provide them with opportunities.

The listening turns around our involvement, and our responses all seek to involve ourselves. It centers our abilities, solutions, and connections instead of making spake for the other to really communicate their circumstance. Since we are listening for how we can help, rather than to understand the real need and concern, we are liable to offer irrelevant input. We end up changing the topic from what the other person cares about, achieved, needs, etc., and refocusing on what we can provide, what we thin matters, and on how our own achievements can benefit them.

Often, what the other is saying doesn’t involve us at all. In that case, inserting ourselves means we’ll miss the point.

Ways I aspire to listen

Deep listening

Deep listening to sounds, in general, as per Pauline Oliveros:

Deep has to do with complexity, boundaries, or edges beyond ordinary or habitual understanding.

A subject that is too deep surpasses one’s present understanding, or has too many unknown parts to grasp easily. A deep thinker defies stereotypical knowing and it may take either a long time or never to understand her.

Deep coupled with listening, is learning to expand perception of sounds to include the whole space-time continuum of sound. Encountering the vastness and complexities as much as possible. Simultaneously, one ought to be able to target a sound or sequence of sounds, perceiving the beginning, middle, and end of them as a focus. Such focus and expansion means one is connected to the whole of the environment and beyond.

Deep listening to speech, in particular, as per the adoption of Oliveros’ insights into mindefulness practice.

Communicative listening

Communication is not about the subject internalizing information. Communication is about a connection, which requires that the other and their utterances remain other. In communication we come in contact with something different, and while the communication is liable to change those communicating, it does not involve identification of one subject with another.

Communication and the alterity that is its condition can, in principle, have only an instrumental and not an ontological role and status in a thinking that views the subject as the negative, but specular, identity of the object, that is, as an exteriority without alterity. The subject cannot be outside itself: this is even what ultimately defines it–that is outside, and all its “alienations” or “extraneousness” should in the end be suppressed by and sublated in it. It is altogether different with the being of communication. The bing-communicating (and not the subject-representing), or if one wants to risk saying it, communication as the predicament of being, as “transcendental”, is above all being-outside-itself. (peter01, 24)