Learning to listen
Ayden Kowalski | Monday, May 1, 2023
Listening is an underrated form of engagement. While we experience encouragement to find and use our voices here, it is equally important to recognize when we need to be focused on someone else’s voice, and how this absorption of another’s message can stir us. Exactly how our quiet attention aids us and our relationships differs across contexts, but generally, by learning to listen, we deepen our understandings of our friends and ourselves.
There is great use to giving our routines and experiences a musical soundtrack. All good parties have some playlist in the background that encourages certain emotions in us. Similarly, when we match a melancholy winter walk with uplifting yet longing songs or celebrate the first day of spring with a throbbing setlist of summer anthems, we both create a release for our emotions and connect deeper with ourselves, understanding what we feel. Breakup albums help with breakups for a reason. A personal soundtrack may sound melodramatic, but we are extremely passionate in nature, and music is an ideal exhaust value for those passions.
We often seek to listen to those people or media that affirm us without suggesting we have room for growth. There is a humility required for listening to others, accepting that they may have wisdom for us. A friend who offers to read my paper may think it is garbage, and that could be the truth. A roommate with different experiences may have derived an opposing view of the world, and there may be some truths even in a scheme I generally do not accept. But we also do deserve to be heard, and it is important that we form relationships where our opinions are appreciated and considered. Dialogue is critical to any relationship, and if we only speak or hear, then the relationship will probably not last long.
Perhaps the most underrated part of listening, however, is becoming comfortable in quiet and silence. There is great peace and restoration in simply roaming campus and hearing birds chirping by, unfazed by the expectations upon us for the day. In my first year, I often went by Saint Mary’s Lake to photograph the sunset, and as I routinely came to the same spots near my dorm, where the curtain of trees split apart, I formed a little sanctuary for myself, beyond the chaos of adjusting to college life. The quiet and beautiful moments on campus are reminders that the problems of college life inflate in my mind, and no test or paper can swallow up all the joy to be found here.
There is also great value of our silence in company, especially when we give someone else the space to share their stories. When we listen to others not to solve them, but to understand them, then our relationships mature. It is a human urge to reply to a tough story with advice or a joke to lighten the atmosphere, but sometimes, all somebody wants is a witness, a companion to stay up with them in the garden. I know I have felt closest to others when I have let them share themselves without my response.
When we learn to listen, we discover we listen to learn — about ourselves, our worlds and each other. We enter a cathartic chorus, a constructive dissonance or a powerful silence and always emerge more whole. The power of listening is in our weakness; we can only receive. But, more often than not, we will gain something worth that risk of vulnerability.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.