Why listening is so hard

It’s extraordinarily hard to listen to other people so that they’re actually heard.

For most of us, the difficulty begins early on. We’re so caught up in our own concerns, twisted and knotted with our fear or inner-criticism or self-interest, that we rarely extend ourselves with the kind of patience and openness that will make listening possible.

Then, if we’re able to find the part of us which does want to listen, we find that our interior world is filled with chatter: endless, whirling, disjointed. To listen to another calls upon a rare inner stillness that will give what is said a place to land, soft ground in which to take root.

And then, perhaps most difficult of all, is that other people’s worlds are so startlingly different from our own. Even those who are closest to us, those into whose eyes we gaze with longing and love – even they inhabit vast worlds whose degree of overlap with ours is tiny in comparison with their dissimilarity. The web of meanings, associations, stories and interpretations of another are, in the end, never fully knowable. And it is out of this web that people speak.

It’s miraculous that we can ever understand one another at all.

If you will listen to another, you’ll need to work with each of these. And in the end you’ll need to release yourself into the speaker’s vastness and know that you can never fully know what it is to be the person who said what you heard. Only from this suspension of knowing can real listening emerge. Only from here can you listen to the other as a real ‘you’ rather than as an ‘it’ that you figured out already.