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.
Q: Is listening active or passive?
A: Active, as good listeners attend to conversation with unconditional presence.
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 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.
Q: Good listeners are gardeners who cultivate what kind of conversations?
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 that 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.
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, and employ the principles of consensus to find the most fertile directions in which to grow the conversation and scale our collective abilities.
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 express more holistically 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.
Q: Listening deeply is how we develop the art of _________.
Listening well and learning what kinds of stories are most captivating are not separate activities. Think about the kinds of stories that are easiest to listen to; those which make the act of listening not an effort, but a pleasure.
💡 What stories do you remember that have this quality? How are they shaped and shared?
Often, the Hero's Journey is held up as the prototypical narrative arc that draws us in by appealing to our deepest mythic impulses. However, Douglas Rushkoff pointed out the holes in this and spoke of the move to "meta" stories which revolve around satire, and exist by virtue of modern communication technologies and media environments.
Taken to its conclusion, this drive for "meta" narratives ends in what Simon de la Rouviere calls infinite game storytelling, which can be wonderfully engaging. However, we must pay close attention to the manner in which modern media environments enclose even our most sincere attempts to play infinite games.
The infinite game still unfolds on some ground, even if the map is revealed dynamically as we explore together the dark and yet-to-be-revealed regions. This ground is nothing other than silence. In particular, it is the active silence of attentive listeners. It is silence as an open commons, and it must be cared for lest we begin to think even of the endless emptiness within as a resource to be used in order to gain yet another conceptual label; even one as high-minded as "enlightenment" or some other such fantasy. We invite you to consider what silence as a commons really means, and then listen carefully to Audrey Tong and Gordon Hempton. Do enjoy:
I shall distinguish the environment as commons from the environment as resource. The customary law which humanized the environment by establishing the commons was usually unwritten. It was unwritten law not only because people did not care to write it down, but because what it protected was a reality much too complex to fit into paragraphs.
When people spoke about commons, iriai, they designated an aspect of the environment that was limited, that was necessary for the community's survival, that was necessary for different groups in different ways, but which, in a strictly economic sense, was not perceived as scarce.
Enclosure has denied the people the right to that kind of environment on which - throughout all of history - the moral economy of survival had been based. Enclosure, once accepted, redefines community.
Listening with an open heart is the single most effective way to act against enclosure of any kind. Practice this and the stories you will choose to tell - both to yourself and others - will inevitably become richer and more illuminating.