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The Art of Listening In the Age of Social Media

We’re all guilty of one-way communication. Take for instance our Facebook statuses and comments where we make a statement and project it out into the world on our own little platform that is our timeline. We are able to be as bold as we dare, as snarky as we please, and even sassy if we feel like it without giving it a second thought. Hey, I said it, it’s out, accept it or move on, and that’s just how it works, right? Well I’m not satisfied with this process. There is something valuable that is getting lost here. This something is the art of listening. Listening helps us survive conflicts and build relationships; however, this art and skill is at risk as we become more and more social media-centered.

So what am I talking about? How is listening an art? Don’t we do this all the time? Listening is not the same as hearing. We hear things all the time. It’s part of our human make-up—our senses. Listening on the other hand, requires commitment and active participation on our part. Listening allows us to actively and effectively participate in a two-way—or as experts say it, interpersonal communication—where we take in what the other person is saying, follow the thread of their story, process it, and then respond to it. By doing so, we acknowledge the other person and say to them, “I hear you and what you’re saying matters to me.” Doing this well requires consistent work and reflection—like an artist creating a piece of art.

So why am I so stuck on this? Well here’s how I see it: our world of social media is turning us into egotistic creatures. We used to depend on each other in order to survive the harsh world of beasts eons ago. At night, our early human ancestors around the world would sit around bonfires and tell stories. While one person speaks, the rest listen attentively because the story being shared might help them survive the next time they come face to face with danger. It was a survival skill. And it should still be today. We need it to survive our personal relationships, friendships, the work place, the classroom, everywhere. We need it for inner-clan conflicts, tribal conflicts, national conflicts, international conflicts, and every other conflict at every level of human relationships.

Relationships make up the heart of our human experience. We build and tear them down all the time. They shape who we are and who we can become. By working on our listening skills, we get right to the core of our humanity—our relationships—and labor there like gardeners tending to our gardens. Developing our listening skills helps us pull out the weeds, plow the soil, plant the seeds, and water the precious flowers that would become great relationships. It can be a beautiful and transforming experience if we let it. But for some reason, our wonderful technology has made us less than ideal gardeners.

Social media, as much as it has blessed our world (create new relationships, accountability, new mediums, etc.), it has given us a predominantly one-way lecture-type platform. I believe strongly in freedom of speech, I even write because it is one of the pillars of my beliefs, but I feel like our generation is missing out on what our ancestors once mastered and that is the art of listening. Because we are so used to speaking from our own little virtual podiums, we’ve become good at projecting things out and not so good at listening, I mean really listening to what others are saying.

I speak from personal experience. I slip all the time by getting both worlds mixed up; where I talk to the people who are physically around me as if I’m on Facebook—where I state something short, sometimes snarky, and move on, forgetting that a conversation takes at least two people. I’m afraid our social media habits have crossed over to our non-virtual world and we are becoming walking sound bites.

It’s bad. It’s very bad. And lately, it’s been bugging me so much that I’ve started to reflect on why I am this way. Why am I under-developing or even worse, losing my listening skills? Who do I hurt along the way? What do I lose in the process? These are just some of the questions I’ve taken on as I try to be a better listener than I am today and I hope you can take a moment to reflect on it yourself. We are blessed with advanced technology, however, we must not forget who we are; we are humans who live and survive best when we’re together. This togetherness requires healthy relationships and healthy relationships begin with perfecting the art of listening.