The zeitgeist of the current age might be defined by the features of extrovertism, that is to carry away the world with all what one has inside. This trend of being expressive, that is to put oneself in public court, not all the time but predominantly to grab public attention, has been supplemented by digital means like the onslaught like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and has permeated into almost every nook and corner of human existence. From academia to media to politics to many other professions, being expressive is considered a lifeline for anyone to stay in that profession.
But in the obsession with expressing ourselves, we have an opportunity cost -an economic term which means to forsake something for getting something. The cost of which is seen in self-inflicted catastrophes, like terrorism, climate change, gender inequality and economic deprivation etc. The opportunity cost that we made for laying essence of human existence in being “expressive” is that we have forgotten the art of listening.
Yes, the apocalypse that has been hovering on the horizon and has been unfolding before us for the last few decades in the likes of rising wave of terrorism evolving itself into more complex forms, like Right Wing Populism in Europe giving birth to Islamophobia and a few countries’ tunnel vision approach towards development via clean environment repellents like coal. In this age of connection, thanks to digital media, there are high rates of suicide. All these issues testify to one single fact that we talk but we don’t listen to one another.
True listening is an art. On the face value, it seems simple, but, in its essence, it needs a lot of attention. Stephen R. Covey writes in his book entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that the essence of true listening lies in Empathic Listening which is the highest form of listening. This is the listening in which one is not blinded by one’s perspective in order to understand others. This is the listening in which one sheds away all those barriers that might influence his/her judgment about the speaker while s/he is speaking. To put it in author’s words, “Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look through it; you see the world the way they see the world; you understand their paradigm; you understand how they feel.”
Normally, according to Stephen R. Covey, people vis-à-vis listening can be categorised into four levels. Either they ignore what other is saying or they pretend to listen by saying “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right”. Or, either they go for “selective listening” that is to listen to certain parts of the conversation or they resort to “attentive listening” in which they are more consumed in their listening by paying attention to words being uttered. Hardly and people go for empathic listening which is the fifth level and is the highest one.
A Lack of empathic listening has cost us a lot at individual, social and state level and has fragmented people along various lines. Not listening to others makes us ignorant of others’ vantage point. People, when not being listened to, feel deprived; thus, they lose their cool in order to make their concerns listen to others in ways that are not win-win in nature. This growing division in the face of advanced technological means to keep humans connected, is nothing less than an irony. Hitherto, communication sans empathic listening has robbed us of our relations at individual level- be they between children and parents, wife and husband, brothers and sisters, students and teachers and among friends. Not listening to each other in an empathic manner has deprived us of maintaining balance in the social fabric of society, as is reflected from sectarian conflicts, minority issues and violence meted out to women. Last but not the least, the cult of listening without extending empathy is gnawing at us at global level too where states, day in day out, are at each other throats over petty issues and terrorism has been ripping us apart.
For any society, academia plays the role of a guiding Messiah as those in academia, via fiction or non-fiction, show to the society its actual shape by playing the role of a mirror and draw attention of the society towards its sore points. Though to every thinking mind this thing is clear that we have been bearing the brunt of the lack of “empathic listening”, but unfortunately, as someone still attached with academia, based upon empirical observation of classes I have been part of, I can say that our academia hardly nurture empathic listening”. More emphasis is being put on how to be expressive, and intellect is being weighed via how much someone is expressive. In their obsession with being expressive and knowing the nexus between intellect and being expressive, teachers try their level best to harp on their subject without bothering whether students are picking up anything or not; thus, they do not listen to their students. The same loquacious attitude is reflected among students later on, which does not let them to accommodate someone else’s vintage point if they come across a debate.
Globalisation, via technology, helped us glue together, but, unfortunately, sans empathic listening, it has amplified the monologues instead of dialogues. Our talking with each other, without empathic listening, which is nothing different than a monologue, has been aggravating issues we face like terrorism. In the backdrop of the recent Kabul attacks, one of my friends, Janaan A. Marwat, who works at the United Nations, put aptly the picture of agonising world, we have been living in, via a post on Facebook. The post says, “Such an agonising world we live in where terrorists are perfecting the art of terrorism; the pacifists are perfecting the art of mourning; the apologists are perfecting the art of arguments; and the denialists are perfecting the art of lying.” We need to make bridges, via empathic listening. The cult of being expressive should be complemented with being an empathic listener because in this lies our salvation.