Today, we swim in a vast ocean of sonic waves pulling us in a multitude of directions. Dizzy with the influx from simultaneous channels and sources, our attention flickers activating our nervous system into a frenzy. We snatch fragmented pieces of sound and receive partial bits of distorted information overlayed with tones to some modern melody of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, and beyond.
As I write the above sentences, my phone has signaled ‘incoming’ a handful of times, my daughter has barged into my room, her cat has begun meowing, and my husband has inquired about what I would like from the grocery store. The global pandemic continues to rage, the usual separation between professional and personal have all but evaporated, and our attention spans have shriveled to, as many say, “less than goldfish’s lengths.”
The constant inundation of distraction undeniably prevents us from our capacity to focus, to concentrate, to get things done; but beyond that, it deprives us of something much deeper, much more essential. It robs us of the depth of our own listening, ultimately stunting our own becoming.
We are living amidst many crises. Yet this crisis remains unnamed and unrecognized. It remains hidden in plain view.
I call it a “listening crisis.”
The plentitude of distractions is but one of the many enemies of listening. I mention it, in particular, because of its popularity in today’s world. So, what happens when the enemies of listening prevail?
The impact is palpable and at times haunting.
Take a moment to recall a specific instance when you were not listened to:
- What happened?
- What was your visceral response?
- What emotions were activated?
- How did it impact your way of relating to that person or group?
I asked these questions during a presentation I lead a few months ago, and the responses were telling.
People reported a range of experiences including: “I wanted to hit,” “I wanted to scream,” “I was outraged,” “I felt disconnected,” “I felt disregarded and denied.”
We see the impact of lack of listening at the individual level. And we can also consider what the impact of not listening can be on a larger scale. But what happens when certain groups of people are not listened to? The refusal to listen, whether unconscious or conscious fortifies, secures, and cements separation. There is no greater way to ensure the permanence of a divide than to decline to listen.
We can experience and sense the pain that lack of listening can perpetuate. The wonderful news is that we can also see a tremendous beauty that emerges when we do listen, and we can intentionally learn and practice the power of listening. Carl Rogers says, “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces of change that I know.”
When we move beyond partial, superficial, or half-hearted listening and instead grant someone the fullness of our attention, our complete presence, and truly listen, we create a space in which we can activate and experience “one of the most potent forces of change.”
How can this be? How can something so simple as our presence, attention, and listening be that powerful?
Well, what if language isn’t just about relaying information? What if language isn’t just about getting my point across or having a concept be transferred? What if that’s only one aspect of language?
What if language is also about investigation, discovery, and unearthing? What if language also generates and creates? Where philosophers, like Heidegger, are on to something?
What I have seen over and over again, after almost two decades of working with people from around the world, is that when we are present and deeply listening, we can enter into a different kind of conversation, a kind of conversation in which we can unfold together. A conversation I like to call, “the beauty of babble.” The beauty of babble entails a few aspects. Firstly, it offers us the opportunity to not have everything figured out ahead of time, to not be clear, to not know. It also allows us to meander, to wonder, and then often we encounter something unexpected, delightful, and meaningful, like an unexpected treasure. A shift in how we are being.
Good conversations, anchored in presence, and deep listening, can let us air our stale thoughts, repetitive content, spinning ideas, rumination, or engrossed themes. It’s like opening a window on a sunny, warm spring day to ventilate and purify. Once we have aired-out the old, we often have the space to enter into deep reflection, true inquiry, contemplation, wonderment, and thoughtful speculation.
We need spaces to babble, to enter into conversations where we can explore how to have challenging conversations, hard conversations, or simply conversations where we can honestly share what’s up for us. The depth of discovery that can take place in the beauty of babble brings us home to our humanity. We are relational creatures, and we become in each other’s presence.
I invite you to practice. Practice being intentional and generous with your attention and listening. See what beauty arises from the pleasure of babbling.
If you’re ready to learn more skills to help you listen and communicate with others, then join our Foundation Course or Coaching for Personal & Professional Mastery program.
About the Author:
Veronica Olalla Love, M. Ac., NCC, PCC is the Global CEO for the Newfield Network. She is also an international facilitator for the Newfield Network Programs and is the lineage holder for the Newfield Network’s ontological coaching tradition. In her unique and passionate style, Love invites us to remember the depth of potential we have as evolutionary beings.
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