Typically, hearing is contrasted to listening, and such comparisons almost always favor listening. This dichotomy substitutes for the more complex understanding that there is no single type of listening, but rather, to employ a technique derived from general semantics, we can say that there are multiple varieties of listenings.
This article discusses the art and science of listening. The focus is on listening, with an emphasis on
the personal narrative which can take us into others’ lives, into their feeling memories, as they describe what they saw, heard, tasted, and smelled in another place, another time. The voices are those of storytellers who are
older African American women who had worked in the homes of white families in Mississippi and Alabama and who shared their pasts in taped interviews with a passion, anger interspersed with humor.
It is the spaces between the keys on the piano, the intervals between drops of rain in a storm, the branches of a tree swaying in a breeze, the vertices of a snowflake cascading its way down through the crispy icy air, the sun’s rays hitting the pedestrian as he wends his way home, the time passing between unhurried breaths and the time hastily spent worrying about how a breath may be delivered in a song or a speech or even in a kiss, the love between two people or maybe an entire nation, the color of a favorite food or the sky or the earth, the longing of a distant cry or the sniffling cry nearby, the warmth of a parent toward child, the length and breadth and depth of a lifetime or the span in nanoseconds of a moment, the need to be heard alongside the one who’s being summoned to hear, the invocation of praise, the excommunication of a heretic, the willingness to proceed with a desired action, the denial of a given action, the imprints as they are squished in ecstatic merriment made in puddles left by a persevering rain, the cautious croaking of a bullfrog or the majestic squawking of a goose or a swan or a crane or a heron in flight–such an exhausting array of listening–too much for one listener to internalize at one time, never enough to realize the scope of the living.
A few days before being invited to contribute an article to the Global Listening Centre by your member Sardool Singh, my attention had been arrested by a news item about a Dutch teenager who bungee jumped to her death