The struggle is inevitable,
only options available are less or more of it.
I fly even with my wings broken and
a mind full of desires,
no matter how insignificant,
if I am not better,
at least I am different.
Have you ever wondered why we have two ears? Usually, people say – “so that we can listen more and talk less.” That’s alright but that’s not the reason why we were created with two ears on both sides of our head. We have two ears so that we can understand the direction of the noise, our hearing ability widens, clarity of what we hear increases, the strain of loud noise is reduced or divided between our two ears. And to help our ears to listen more effectively we have got two eyes as well, which help us to see, read, understand and focus on the person and his expressions. But sadly, despite having two ears and two eyes we often fail to listen to others.
I have heard many telling me that I am a good listener, but a few others from my close bunch think, that I am not. So, when the topic of listening came up and I started weighing my art of listening, I found a few startling facts about myself.
Following are the findings:
- I am patient enough listening to a stranger.
- I am very calm and have listened to someone who’s angry, has control and authority over me.
- I am impatient to listen to something which I have heard repeatedly from a person many times.
- I am irritated and don’t like to listen when I am exhausted and tired.
- I am impatient and don’t like to listen attentively to a person who’s under my control and authority.
- I ask my family members and close relatives to wait.
- I listen to the person who interests me more over others.
And the findings can go on and on… But this contemplation helped me to understand my status regarding “listening” to others which made me understand that, “Listening” is a character when a person is inherently a good listener and it is an art to be learned over the years when a person can train himself or herself to listen to people and their hearts deliberately but effectively.
I concluded after a thorough introspection that, I have an inherent character of empathising with people, so I listen to them yet, I still have a lot of training required for myself to help me listen to the people carefully, skilfully and effectively.
Now, the next question popped up in my mind is – ‘how to rate my listening skills?’
I feel there are exactly three ways how I can rate my own listening skills…
- Feedback from the one I am listening to (the vulnerable one, the one in need, the counselled, etc.)
- Feedback from the one who stays along with me almost all the time (my spouse, friends, colleagues, etc.)
- Feedback from my inner being as I am the best person to know whether I have listened carefully or not
If you ask me regarding the basis of those feedbacks, then my answer would be they are based on my responses or the way I respond to the persons need an ear. Yeah, my each and every response to the one who shares his/her heart with me validates my listening skills.
Let me explain it little elaborately as under –
- Listening attentively: This is a very basic stage of this subject of listening. I think we all understand this very well. Our postures, our eye contact, and our interest in the matter or the person are important when we try to listen to someone in need or sharing. Paying attention needs time, patience and lots of compassion. Sreepriya and Kalpana came up with a lot of beautiful scenarios to validate what I want to say here. They gave instances explaining how our not being attentive to someone can jeopardize things around. My response of being an attentive listener validates my skill and lets me pass stage one.
- Listening to the emotions: This is not a situation where we will just get two chairs, one will speak and another will listen. We have to listen through noises, through fits of anger, shouts and even sobs. When people are upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed or hurt, their tendency is to discuss their feelings with others so that they can get a release from their anguish which has been clouding their hearts and minds for a long time. The scenario can be anywhere, within the family or professionally. However, if we simply look at them and shrug or respond by giving advice or by telling them what they did wrong, they won’t feel any better and will probably feel worse after sharing their hearts with us. Because all they want us to validate their feelings by conveying that understanding to them, showing our sympathy or empathy; by letting them know that we are with them listening to them lovingly, without being judgemental to their feelings or behaviours. Here, my response of decoding those shouts and noises and venting explain my skills. Am I bouncing back or absorbing everything to give the hurting comfort? Am I annoyed with the hyperactive person I am talking to or considerate enough to allow myself to be a punching bag for him or her to punch till he or she feels better? Joseph, wrote a touchy article to support my point. (NOTE: Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional)
- Listening to silence: Trust me, this is the most difficult one. Many times, I have heard the loud noise of silence which I tried to understand without listening to it. Sometimes, I don’t get to hear the person weeping or talking hyperactively or even shouting or venting at me but all he or she does is to remain absolutely quiet or silent… I become clueless yet, I try to invade into that silence and listen to it. All I can do is just notice as Aastha did about her sister. She noticed carefully to find the reasons behind her sister being dull and depressed. Though, I agree that this is possible when the bonding is strong. It is not easily done when two people are strangers to each other and doesn’t have much scope to see each other for a longer period. This is possible within a home scenario or between best friends etc. mostly. So, the more I listen to the silence of other people by noticing well, the more skilful I am. Noticing well is my response to someone’s silence.
Nevertheless, at times, I find myself very helpless when I am unable to listen and understand clearly about the person I care and do everything possible to listen to him or her. When someone doesn’t allow us to listen to him or her, it becomes difficult to listen. But I remind myself – God starts working from where I stop. Both Rajnandini and Avinash spoke about listening to God carefully as it is very necessary when we are weary and tired.
So, how do you respond when you have someone in front of you to listen carefully?
Keep thinking and keep reading…
In the grandeur of our time, we the men of the 21st century have not left any stone un-turn in shaping our imaginations to reality. Whether it is stepping out of our terrestrial boundary, artificial insemination, cracking of human genome, harnessing of nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, defining the black hole, invention of teleportation, in so on and so forth we have done our best to define anything that our human mind can conceive even “defining God the way we wanted Him to present Himself”. You ask any average age person or an illiterate homeless man or a scholar, everyone has a definition for everything. Even a man who sells betel (Panwala) can define how the IB should operate and how to play diplomatic immunity. Now, one of the biggest issues (especially of young people) is, “WHOM to Listen and Whom NOT to?”
When confusion becomes the epitaph, how life looks like:
I learned from one of the prestigious schools. My parents have always fulfilled everything that I wish, they gave me every pleasure so that I won’t feel their absence. I don’t lack people to hang out with me. I just need to log-in my social page and ask anyone I like “let’s hangout, that’s it!” My driver is always ready to take me anywhere I want, none can dare to question me on anything. Most of my friends wish to have a life like me yet… ‘I know what I go through, I know how I go to bed and when I rise-up how my eyes look like’. Apart from me, my Heineken cans, my bedroom’s sea facing balcony, my wardrobe and bedsheets knows my thoughts. Whom can I trust and share my inner-pain? Whom shall I listen? Will he sound relevant or again some more Gyan (knowledge) and flamboyant sacred words!
For me, it’s a dream to afford a 2BHK flat. I studied from govt. college and was fortunate enough to work in this Call center. I think it is good for me to meet my friends in the nearest City Centre, in fact, I prefer my office cab to drop me there. Though funny yet painful, “I lie to them, I live in the next apartment to the City Centre”. I, the sole bread earner of my family had to look after my aged parents, younger sister’s future and who cares about my future. I think it’s better not to dream some good dreams when your fate has a different story altogether. Whom can I trust and share the things within me? Whom shall I listen? Will he sound relevant or again some more Gyan (knowledge), some more words of comfort and some more flamboyant sacred words!
One of the best-selling authors of the New York Times, Steven Furtick Jr. says
“The direction of our lives is mostly determined by the voices we respond to.”
Indeed! Listening is not just pitching of the stroke of a word into our ears. When we “confine listening to just listening” it affirms the age-old joke, “God, has given us two ears on both sides. One to listen and other works as exit door”. Listening is not just the entry of mere sounds into our ears, moreover, it begins with looking for an answer outside of us, it is the reasoning of thoughts came from the other end and finally ends as we internalize it. On the other hand, when we decide to listen or look for an answer (a voice outside of us) all that we primarily intend – “I must hear what I want to hear”; “It must sound contemporary” and “Instantaneously aid my wound”.
After a week-long meeting, I came back home and was completely worn-out, discouraged and fed-up with the office policies. I convinced myself to quit the next morning. When my Dad came to know my condition, his answer was beyond my expectation. Both of us are of completely different professional background yet his voice on that night saved me from a mistake. He said, “you have the right to write your resignation but prior to that think are you there because you deserve it or it is a grace of God that took you there?” After a couple of weeks, one of my mentors, a very humble, God-fearing and man of honest character put another huge task before me. He said, “take everything into prayer and wait on the LORD. He is God and has ordained all your days. He knows which is better for you. Refrain from what your mind instructs you.”
The Bible says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end, you will be counted among the wise”.
Often, we face such topsy-turvy situation in life which cannot be explained to anyone alongside we do not know what to do. When guilt and loneliness drive life, self-destruction comes riding on the horse. Exactly, that day I decided to end it all. Mind instructed, “it’s your life and you muddle up. You Die”. Apart from Me and God, no one had any idea what’s my next step is. Great is this assurance – GOD IS NEVER LATE. It’s He (Jesus) whispered, “you took your freedom and see today yet if you will follow my voice, I have better plans for you”. Lo, here I am, Today. 😊
In the Bible, God says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear my voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
The world is filled with the knowledge of good and evil. Voices from within and without are too many. LISTEN, BUT TO WHOM & WHY is an individual decision putting life at risk. God does speak. He never refrains from speaking to us through creative means and His voice is always, TRUST-WORTHY!
Few days back I got a call from my friend. She sounded very sad and broken. Her tone was that of melancholy. When I enquired her “what’s the matter?” She broke as she discussed about her friends being mean to her and there’s lot more that I surely can’t reveal here. She confided to me as she trusted me as a strong shoulder to lean on when she felt feeble. For me (personally) the matters that she discussed seemed to be something that don’t need so much of her introspection or something that couldn’t or shouldn’t affect a person to the extent of breaking them down. But again I want to reiterate that this is my opinion and we are two different individuals. Hence, a matter which is of no to little importance to me is an issue that is demanding and holding her attention strongly.
This is just one excerpt from my life. Different individuals, different perceptions, different view points and different everything. And this “difference” plays a crucial role in determining “Mental Health” of a person.
What is Mental Health? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes “subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others.”
Mental Health is a very complex issue and very vaguely discussed or altogether omitted from discussion. Apparently the association of word “Mental” with “Health” got huge misconceptions (sadly 😔). And hence it is something not spoken about often. If a calm, stable, content mind represents a good state of mental health then an impulsive, gloomy, often moody, pessimistic state of mind is a sign that it needs treatment. But again not much attention is heeded towards the warning bells, often brushed under the carpet with words like “Everything will be fine in a while“, ” it’s his/her habit, leave alone“, “ I am busy enough, don’t bother me“. And this paves way to chronic issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, acute stress, different addictions and so on.
What’s the problem and the solution? Ironically the problem and the solution is same in this context of mental health issues. It is Listening. Let me clarify with a petty imaginary, futuristic and hypothetical example – My daughter comes to me and starts narrating about her day at school. She tells me about a student who hits her, teases her everyday. But as I am busy with my daily chores show no particular interest in her words and laugh it off calling it play and this upsets my daughter. And over a period of time as she continuously takes a notice of disinterest from my end stops opening up herself to me. And the tension of suppressed emotions pile up in her that could possibly deteriorate her mental health and drive towards depression as she have no one to confide to. So all the way I was only “Hearing” but not “Listening”. The issue which seemed to be inconsequential or immaterial to me holds priority in her life. So without being judgemental as every individual got a different emotional quotient and perspective I should have listened to her. And only when I listen to her with all the intent, I can guide her better. So the problem which arises out of “not listening” finds a solution when one finds a “listening ear with all the heart in place“. In fact, listening is a counsellor’s first step in his or her algorithm of treatment, isn’t it? Just as a doctor needs to listen to the symptoms before prescribing a medicine, an engineer needs to listen to the needs of the client before designing something, a counsellor listens to the turmoil a person with mental disturbances undergoes before suggesting a way out. And in turn the person in question also needs to listen. It’s a two way traffic.
“Mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, on releasing the World Health Report.
When we teach “sharing is caring” to our kids we should mean it. It’s not just about the material or tangible things. It exceeds that. We should strive constantly to set up a two way communication process (charity begins at home) where in we don’t shy away from bearing our hearts to our near and dear ones (at least one person) as well let others reach us out . Our emotions need an outlet – be it apprehensions, our views, likes – dislikes, experiences – everything. Sharing via speaking up and listening is what galvanises many things at one go – a person, relationships, a home and society. When I know there’s someone to listen without judging me I won’t let the frustration pent up inside me. That could go a long way in sanitising me against mental illnesses, period!
Remember: you want to share something, I am listening to you 😊.
“Want to go to Mumbai,” I said, as my Mom stood shell-shocked. “You know me and your granny will be alone. Your dad isn’t here anymore,” she whimpered into my ears, after a gasp, as I sat eating my lunch. My father had passed away on an early Valentine’s Day morning in 2015. Nine months had passed since then. We had struggled as a family to move on, with my mother the sole bread earner.
I was just completing my graduation and with a little luck – because of my partial journalism experience – a web portal from Mumbai had offered a job. We will also arrange for your stay for the opening month, the company from Mumbai had assured. I was deadlocked on my mind, “I will go”. This is the breakthrough I needed, my dream break, which I hoped will stabilize my family financially. It will give us a better life.
“Mama! Listen to me,” I called preparing to open up my grand plan to her. “We will not speak a word more on it,” came her reply in a stern voice. I grew up in a hostel – going there as a child and coming out a man – and although it’s a lame excuse to use, I often employ it to convince people, why I was a little emotionless.
By the time I had finished my lunch and gone on to wash my plates, I could hear my mother sobbing in a little corner of her bed. I shouted at her from outside “why do you always cry? Your tears won’t bring him back. Look at Rina’s mother” – Rina’s Dad had left them in their infancy. Her mother single-handedly brought up her two children – “if she can stay so positive, why can’t you?”
I was desperate to go out. I wanted to work, to earn. To give my mother and us a better life. But I didn’t have money to go. She was my only option. When about 45 minutes later, she stepped out of her room, I was using my cellphone. “Listen,” she tried to catch hold of me and talk. Her eyes were wet, voice subdued. But I walked off.
“Perhaps you should listen to her,” a part of my conscience told me. Another was louder, “she didn’t hear you. She didn’t have time to listen to your plan.” I strolled out. “I am not in a mood to talk,” I told her in an angry tone.
We didn’t bring up the topic again. More because I was frustrated knowing the answer would always be ‘No.’ But the bridge in our mother-son relationship had broadened. I must tell you that I was never a family man. I grew up in a hostel and felt closer to the open world and suffocated at home.
Months later as India faced New Zealand in the 2016 T20 World Cup, I sat in a decorated, fancied canteen of a call center watching the match on TV. I would have still watched it on a television set, perhaps in a Mumbai office somewhere in Navi Mumbai, but the feeling would have been so different. I hated call centers. I had joined one in December.
After a brief grieving period, I engulfed myself into the job. I hoped it would help me fund myself, if journalism came calling again. But Call center duties are no easy and it consumed all of my week. Back home, my relationship with my mother was deteriorating. She would hardly talk to me, I would do the same. I returned home, asked for food, ate and slept. She only called my name when I was required to bring home groceries and go to the market for vegetables.
We weren’t listening. More so, we weren’t ready to listen to the other. Our own decisions were utmost to us. My grandmother stoked in between. She was the home post-lady. I could hardly afford time at home, making things so much worse for us.
My mother would often complain about my lack of time and communication to her. “On my week-offs, I sit at home. You can come and talk if you need,” I refuted back. If you were a stranger in the house, you would have mistaken us to be enemies. We barked at each other more than talking. Every time, I opened my mouth, it would be to point a mistake she had committed. She would do the same, but on lesser occasions.
Christmas was soon approaching. In the earlier years, we had a small community function at our home. We were having the same this year. I consider myself to be a good show anchor and have hosted multiple shows in the past. It was a no brainer that I was the undisputed host at my house function. I also often helped in decorating the hall.
But this year, I was doing none. “Would you not stay, it’s a home function, please understand,” my mother tried to reason. “No, I can’t. I have office,” I lied. I had initially taken an off intending to be present at the programme. But later changed my plan to humiliate my mother. I wanted her to feel the same, I felt when she refused to listen to my entire Mumbai plan.
“How does it feel now,” my mind asked my mother. A deceiving smile lighted my face. Beneath in my heart, I cried. I knew it was wrong. But I couldn’t help. It felt so right then. It wasn’t enough, I decided.
Another humiliation followed. On Christmas Day, I asked my mother to go alone to church. I will come later, I told her, citing a lack of proper sleep. I intentionally reached late, tucked up in formals. But my mother had enough of me. She couldn’t bear it anymore. And so, when she was given time to stand and thank the Lord for that day, she burst out crying.
Everything that had happened between us was suddenly out in the open. The Cold War of our home had bursted out. I felt ashamed but somehow kept myself sitting. When church ended, many people came and advised me for good. I wished all of them well. But deep inside, I was raging.
We went back home together in the same bus, but as strangers. It had reached a final point for me. I couldn’t shout at her. I wouldn’t. She was broken. I was too, but partially. I did not comfort her. My mother tried to, but I would not accept.
“I had a job offer from Mumbai,” I once yelled at her during an argument. “I had thought of taking both you and grandmother with me. We could have put this house on rent. We all could have been happy there,” I forced her to hear me. “But you weren’t ready to listen to me. You were busy explaining yourself and your sorrow for my dead father.” I knew I had hurt her, the moment I spoke those words.
“What about you? Did you ever listen?” She cried out. I have an irritating habit of listening to half of what others spoke. Before I gave them numerous examples to change people’s perception. I have never been a good listener. Like Aastha explained, patience while listening is the key – “To truly understand what the other person is talking about, we should have the patience to listen“. I was impatient.
Every-time my mother cried, I would bring up examples of numerous single mothers I knew, who moved on with their lives without much fuss. Most times I would do it to suppress her tears. I didn’t have the patience to listen.
But then she too was preoccupied in her sad thoughts. Scared and traumatised at the sound of me leaving her, my mother never listened to what I wanted about us. Years later, I still think if, so many things could have been avoided, had either of us had dared to listen.
Fast forward four years, I am finally in Mumbai. Employed in a top web-portal and earning handsomely. But is my mother with me? No. I left her back in Kolkata. The wounds of our cold-war have still not healed. It has never been the same since that November in 2015. But we are trying. I plan to bring her with me when we both are back to a normal mother and son again. I am sure we will be very soon.
We try and listen more of each other. She plans to first buy a house in Kolkata. I will help her, before re-proposing my grand plan to her. A plan I had devised four years ago, where we live as a HAPPY FAMILY…where we LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.
It is said that “A good communication begins with good listening“.
But how many of us listen?
In my home, the day begins with me screaming around and asking my kids and husband to get ready for the day. And it is truly said, ” if any woman speaks and no one listens -then her name is MOM”.
I just have to push them ahead to get my day moving. Even when they don’t listen, all I do is smile inside as it reminds my days as a child. Even when growing up, we still do the same with our parents.
Have we forgotten what exactly listening means?
If we look out in society, everyone is a speaker, if I could say precisely- a motivational speaker. If I am upset, or write something quite upsetting – I have at least a minimum 10 well-wishers coming to speak to me.
But are they really our well-wishers?
It is the most confusing part of the conversation, that takes up my time. Each and everyone comes to speak to us, but then very few like countable ones are actually bothered about our actual situation and want us to swim across the wavering tides. When our minds are disturbed, it is difficult to distinguish who are our friends and who are not. I have had enough experience with fake people and the outcomes of their wrong advice. Call me a fool or blind – but I am sure everyone has such phases to think about.
I have had a couple of experience, wherein I was misled by my own family members, who pose as well-wishers and then ditch us a walk away, finally, when the blame game begins, they just mock our wrong decision making. This is what happens when we listen to people who just hear us, and not listen.
Most of them, just want us to hear them, and follow blindly. We actually jot down their points and then follow them, as if they actually meant to help us, then finally realising, we were just another piece of an experiment for them.
If you see the current society, the majority of the problems are the outcome of our lack of listening capacity. Couples don’t go along, as they hate listening to each other because of ego. Parents don’t listen to their kids, and then in future, they don’t listen to their parents.
Does listening take up so much time?
All it takes is a few seconds, then it is effortless.
Listening is always a choice, one needs to take up to be supportive, while speaking is spontaneous in most cases. Unlike hearing, listening need not only ears to open but also the heart. One must be an effective listener to anyone who requires someone to talk to.
Do you listen to your heart?
It is something we have shut our ears to. Most of us, don’t listen to the warning that our conscious mind whispers to us and walk into trouble. It is said that God has designed in a way, where our conscious soul is capable to identify the problems before it comes or occurs. We ourselves have the power to solve every problem, but as we have shut our ears to our soul, we follow the footsteps of the outside world, until we finally have none to listen to. So let us all listen to ourselves at least for a minute, and then see what changes we can bring in ourselves.
God gave us two ears, and one mouth just to remind us that listening is twice important than speaking.
To conclude, it is important to identify who truly listens to us, or whom we are listening to. A True listener actually paraphrases what is being told, before landing in any conclusion or suggestion. It is easy to identify the listener through their body language and the way they let us spill the whole matter before running into conclusion. Most of the listeners acknowledge the speaker through nodding or with eye contact, which is actually all the more encouraging.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” -Karl A. Menniger