Listening Transforms the Listener

Excerpts from Taking Our Places by Norman Fischer:

Taking Our Places “Listening is magic: it turns a person from an object outside, opaque or dimly threatening, into an intimate experience, and therefore into a friend. In this way, listening softens and transforms the listener.

Listening is basic and crucial because it is the soil out of which all the fruits of our human relationships grow. Listening takes radical openness to another, and radical openness requires surrender. This is why listening is frightening, although we don’t usually think of it that way. It requires a kind of fearless self-confidence that most of us have never developed.

…If you want to stay open to life and to change, you have to listen. To listen, really listen, is to accord respect. Without respect, no human relationship can function normally, for the pain and hurt that inevitably arise from disrespect eventually pervert it. When your mind is occupied (usually quite unconsciously) with your own thoughts and plans and strategies and defenses, you are not listening. And when you are not listening, you are not according respect. The speaker knows this and reacts accordingly.

It doesn’t take a psychic to know that someone is not really listening. We all know whether or not we are being listened to. But we are so accustomed to not being listened to that we take it for granted and even see it as normal. This is why it is so startling, and so powerful, almost magical, when we are actually heard by another person within the openness of true listening.

Perhaps the most common and pernicious form of nonlistening is our nonlistening to ourselves. So much of what we actually feel and think is unacceptable to us. We have been conditioned over a lifetime to simply not hear all of our own self-pity, anger, desire, jealousy, wonder. Most of what we take to be our adult response is no more than our unconscious decision not to listen to what goes on inside us. And as with any human relationship, not listening to ourselves damages our self-respect. It occludes the free flow of love from ourselves to ourselves. To allow ourselves to feel what we actually do feel—not to be afraid or dismayed but to open up a space inside our hearts large enough to safely contain what we feel, with the faith that whatever comes up is workable and even necessary—this is what any healthy, mature human being needs to do and what we so often fail to do.”