Learning to Listen: Listening to Learn.

IMG_4617It is one of those age-old queries of who came first: the chicken or the egg. The same applies well to the age-old act of listening to learn. Or is it that we first need to learn to listen?

I find myself caught up with a mind that wants to hear what it wants to hear, and it is getting in my way. I am an English speaker trying to learn Welsh. Unlike those bilingual Waleans, I have spoken one language for some fifty plus years now. I am tuned into hearing certain sounds attached to certain symbols. As I lean in to listen to my Welsh tutor, the sounds blur. I am lost, frustrated and confused. As I lean in to listen, I hear what I want to hear, what I have heard before. I listen intently and work more diligently to hear what others hear but it seems my auditory and cerebral internalization of words are meet with my English perceptions, expectations and assumptions.

For instance: The North Waleans call that jutting rock formation there in North Wales the great orme but I hear “the great orb. Despite several patient requests to repeat the name, I still hear orb. I hear what I want to hear. My past learning’s, associations and perceptions shape my listening and as such my learning. My intruding assumption: it is a round protruding shape so my patient guide and friend must be saying orb. Stepping outside my worldview, an American English orientation, is a leap that doesn’t come easy. Eventually, I hear the story, the tale of the great worm, and someone points out the shape of a crocodile’s head. Now, I can see the wisdom in the word choice, and my mind finally arrives where theirs has been all along. I hear the word now, and it is orme, not orb.

Stepping outside of myself, all that I know, all that I have experienced and all that I have encountered to see the World through new eyes and hear the Welsh language requires of me an open attitude wherein I learn to listen. It requires of me a suspension of my way, my stories, my language, my sounds, my meanings, and my truth as center of the Universe. It is not an easy task but if I can be still long enough to empty my knowing to make room for other possibilities, then maybe, just maybe, I can begin to master the act of listening to learn, and truly know the grace and riches of this amazing, diverse, global community of which we all belong.

Questions to walk with:

  1. What assumptions get in your way of deep listening and new learning?
  2. When was the last time you were able suspend your knowing to truly hear what a loved one had to say? How did you accomplish this formidable task? What did you learn?
  3. What is one situation, one place, one struggle or one challenge that might dissipate or lessen, if I were to engage in the act of deep listening?
  4. Where will I make a commitment to listen to learn or learn to listen?