The Art of Listening

I recently read something that put me into a reflective mood: “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply”. Many times our ego gets in the way of our own development. We sometimes think that we are the centre of the universe and consider our knowledge and thoughts to be an absolute, even if we may think this on a subconscious level.

The Dalai Lama said that when we talk, we are only repeating what we know. But if we listen, we may learn something new. This is why the ability to truly listen is a vital skill. If we aren’t listening then we aren’t learning anything new. And if we aren’t learning anything new then we aren’t growing.

Our motive when we are listening also affects what we learn. We can be in a state of mindfulness, where we are engaging all of our senses properly to receive some benefit from an external source. Or we can be in a state of ignorance and false ego where we are sure of what we know and close ourselves off from the learning opportunities in front of us.

But just as importantly, we need to make sure that we are in the association of individuals whose words will be of benefit to us. I read in a book called Nectar of Instruction that everything begins from our ability of hearing or as said in Sanskrit, Sravanam. Those we listen to have an effect on our thought process and so we need to be acquiring knowledge from the right source.

Srila Prabhupada wrote an incredible analogy to illustrate this in the Nectar of Instruction. If an intelligent person hears from law books and scriptures that stealing is not good and is punishable by the law, he will not engage in the activity. A less intelligent person may need to be arrested and punished to learn to not steal. However a foolish person may have the experience of hearing about it and seeing the aftermath of stealing, but will still engage in the activity.

If we want to be truly successful and happy, and help others be the same, then the skill of effective listening is important to develop. The roots need to be healthy for there to be strong and steady growth. As Maya Angelou said, all great achievements require time.

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