Monday, March 1, 2010

Hearing and Listening

Living with a 95-year-old nearly deaf person is a lot like living alone.  My mother has spent far too much time alone.  She can no longer be bothered making the effort to carry on a real conversation.   I crave the sound of a human voice.

Sometimes I am just looking for background noise.  Radio talk shows are good for that.  Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of PBS "Car Talk" fame are good, because there's lots of laughter along with the talk.  It's hard to feel sorry for yourself in the midst of laughter!  Music also works, but it lacks the conversational quality I seek.

When I am doing something relatively mindless -- cleaning, yard work, sewing or other needlework, even  occasionally walking  -- my iPod gets a workout.  I can listen to things that require attention.  A good novel.  A thoughtful conversation, often from other Public Radio broadcasts.

That was where I discovered the elephants.

Early this year, 60 Minutes (I know, they are neither public broadcasting nor radio.) broadcast a segment called The Secret Language of Elephants.  It was fascinating.

Elephants speak?  That's reasonable.  Most animals communicate in one way or another.

In tones beyond the range of human hearing?  Tones one can feel rather than hear?  If I pay attention at the local zoo, I might be able to hear/feel their language?   That's a more challenging concept.

Speak with enough diversity that it justifies producing a rather substantial dictionary?    Wow!!

Later in the month another of my favorite podcasts, Speaking of Faith, rebroadcast an episode called Whale Songs and Elephant Loves.  In fact, it's an interview with another researcher in the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell University.

Katy Payne, author, researcher, and guest in this segment, made a statement that caught my fancy.  She says she got interested in elephants because she "never grew up".   She never lost the childlike wonder of the world around her, never got so stuck in "the way its supposed to be" trap that creates blinders in too many adults.  When she felt rumblings around the elephant area that she did not feel in the rest of the zoo, she was open enough to explore these rumblings as a means of communication, and ultimately, a form of language.

Hearing is easy, assuming all our "hearing equipment" is working correctly.  Listening takes work.  It requires thoughtfully processing the sound we hear, whether nature sounds, urban sounds, music or another person's words.  Sometimes it requires reading visual clues along with the words.  The look in an eye, the expression on a face, movement of hands and body, all give clues to what the speakers is really saying.  Am I getting the real message?  Too often, I am not.

Listen -- really listen -- to someone's words today.  Try to get beyond your own hopes, fears and mindset as you listen.  What message is being sent?

Don't forget to pray.

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