I stopped giving medical advice to friends suffering from the common cold a very long time ago. Decades actually. I figured out no one – absolutely no one – ever took my ideas and tried them. They didn’t really want to hear what I had to offer.
Somewhere along the line, I took that knowledge and applied it to the rest of my life. I stopped speaking about many of my ideas for situations, unless I was asked. Even then, I would word what I said carefully. I would make it plain that my ideas worked for me, and they may or may not work for others.
I have noticed that few people hear what I say wholly. They hear what they think is advice, and they politely ignore it.
When did it happen? When did we stop listening to each other? When did we start listening selectively to reinforce our own preconceptions?
For example, I follow astrology, but I don’t pretend it’s a subject that most people wish to hear about. I don’t talk about it very much at all. I have studied it a great deal, and I am fully aware that the horoscopes published in the paper and on a vast number of websites are rubbish. It is a complex science, and many variables go into making an accurate assessment of what astrology reveals about our lives. Nowadays, people believe astrology is nothing more than the short quips written in the newspaper. That’s a wrong assumption. Still, I keep quiet.
For the most part, I am very careful with my choice of words when I write or speak. I avoid “you.” It erects barriers. It sounds accusatory even in benign situations.
I forget which book it was in, but the classicist Anne Carson wrote something to the effect that every word is a blow. By “blow,” she means a physical hit. Words can do that. They can reach across the space that divides people, and they can affect others positively and negatively.
Maybe that’s why we stopped listening. We’re protecting ourselves from unwarranted punishments and judgements thrown at us unnecessarily. Is it just defense?
On some level, I’m sure it is defense. There are other times when I know motives are more nefarious. People simply refuse to hear words that question their preconceptions. They fear they might be wrong about an idea. Being wrong requires contrition and change. Pride does not allow many people to acknowledge they may need to think anew.
And there may lie the crux of the matter – fear. It is powerful.
Fear walls us in. It divides us. It eats at our core and causes all manner of difficulties. Importantly, it blocks proper hearing. When we fear others may have ideas better than our own, we fear we may need to be open and vulnerable and change.
Fear is really quite simple. We learn it immediately when we’re born. Our first fear is that we might not be fed. It’s that primal. It is seated in the stomach.
Perhaps at the most basic level, we don’t listen carefully, because we fear hunger.
Would anyone like some bread and butter? Anyone?