Skip to content

👂 Listening and stories

The quality of listening informs the quality of talking, always. When I really listen to you, I require you to pay closer attention to what you're saying, therefore you speak more accurately and our shared conversation moves closer to the truth of this dialogic instant.

Good listeners do not listen to respond. They listen as a response. It is a critical difference, because it goes to the heart of what it means to be present, right now.

Modern culture has conditioned us to believe that conversation is a competition; that I only need listen to you to find the little part I know more about or can express more eloquently. This competitive attitude results in vertical conversations which quickly become impossible to balance, and so collapse back into the pit of ego where words fall out our mouths meaninglessly, because they are only rational and lack an intentional dimension.

Listening is about cultivating horizontal conversations, where I can be interrupted and feel no anger or frustration. It is about inculcating the trust that we can come back to what was being said 30 minutes, or 3 hours, or 3 days later with no loss of context, because we are interested in shared exploration of the truth outside ourselves, not in propping up our own opinions.

Horizontal conversational space allows us to lay many different threads and return over and over to follow each one at our leisure, without the stress induced by feeling that our relationship might fall apart at any moment if I say the wrong thing.

The best listeners are gardeners, who see any conversation as an opportunity to plant seeds in another mind while simultaneously using the nourishment implied in any interaction to help sprout new growth in the manure of their own experience. In order to do this, though, we must make sure there are no weedy, self-serving opinions left in our seedbed. If we do not prepare the ground first, and empty out our own patch of thoughts like "I know more", "I've heard this before", "This is boring", "This person is uninformed", we cannot grow anything beautiful.

When you're ready to listen, walk in here and leave your opinions at the door. Don't worry, you can pick them up again on your way out and - even if you don't - they will be certain to accost you, because it is their nature. Learn to see how putting all that aside for the moment is not a burden you suffer in the pursuit of "being a better person" - it is a joy and a gift. It is, in fact, the relinquishment of all burden and, in this, the space needed to listen truly is born.

Linked together

Listening is the thread that ties together this whole way of thought. It is premised on trust, and is at the heart of how we arrive at shared truths from which we generate value. We listen to one another's fictions, consider all the possible futures each one implies, pick one, and then pull the present forward to meet it.

Valuable speech is not possible without those who listen to and accept it. Who we listen to and how we listen informs deeply the incentive structures in our society. Building censorship resistant tools allows us to ensure that anybody can potentially be listened to, especially if we can more objectively measure the value of what they're saying.

Listening deeply is how we develop the art of attention, which leads to asking better questions. Being available for, and present with, others is how we start to learn how to listen to our own heart and see more clearly the intentions behind each of our actions in every single moment.

Finally, if you can learn how to listen well, it will become obvious to you how to tell better stories. After all, the two are not separate.