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Listen with both ears

Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Yesterday, in a tense and political community meeting, I twice urged a table of volunteers “to listen with both ears.”

What the hell did that mean?

Typically, Elettore avoids buzz-phrases and jargon … and yet that expression came rolling out of my mouth with the Gravitas of Profound Meaning.

  • Did some childhood Sunday school time capsule in my brain suddenly release a Biblical snippet?
  • Had I read an online article which then embedded itself in my thoughts?
  • Was I trying to find a way to convey a concept of setting aside agendas in order to objectively gather facts?

The answers are: Yes, yes, and yes.

In at least one translation of the New Testament Book of Romans, there is a language to suggest that, in order for faith to grow, we must listen with both ears.

My father would be so proud to know that at least one time-released scriptural message had finally broken open in my brain.

Recently, in trying to assess why a Millennial client never asked questions about others, I dove into online articles on empathy (or the lack of it) as a communications characteristic.

That is when I discovered, Richard Salem, a mediator and former Midwest Director for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service.

“Empathic listening,” Salem writes, “also called active listening or reflective listening, is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding.”

Professional mediators and therapists have written a great deal about tips and tools for empathetic listening. It is a topic worth Googling if you are trying to diagnose and manage intractability in any kind of group situation.

However, the greatest challenge to reflective listening today is mirrored in contemporary journalism.

A standard of news reporting was once “the balanced voice,” with journalists ferreting out both sides of a story. Today, journalism is more often agenda-driven, a kind of audience-driven entertainment, where writers insert themselves into the story.

As news consumers, we seek out the journalists who humor us — and the ideologies that reinforce our personal beliefs.

So, when we actively listen to others, what are we really hearing? An individual's own thoughts and feelings? Or the truths of others that have leeched into our intellectual topsoil?

Listening with two ears may just mean being able to be silent long enough to gather enough information to help us determine which is which.

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