I do not think I really need to set the scene to have this conversation. But just in case the title didn’t make it clear, I want to discuss the distinction between listening and hearing. If the difference between these two things seems unclear to you, perfect, keep reading.
Even if you think you understand this distinction, I encourage you to nevertheless keep reading. Even if you come to find that you are on the exact page as me it may be worth reading to the bottom to see if that is so. I plan to touch on a little more than what is on the surface.
There is nothing I remember more vividly than being taught how to drive from my dad. It was quite the experience; and I mean, experiences that detail parents teaching their kids to drive are generally unique. Just to make things a little bit more specific, my dad is a foreign man with little regard for social norms. He says whatever he wants whenever he wants. At the same time, he is a human who believes in honesty and justice in a fundamental way. How this translates when you’re his daughter, however, is always getting to hear his full idea of the ‘truth’.
To put it more latent terms, even if I was driving absolutely perfect, he had some two cents to give me, or some negative comment to make.
To combat the noise of his complaints, I would sometimes turn on the radio. Now, at the time, Two Chainz was being played on essentially every major radio station. Not to mention many of his songs were circulating; Two Chainz had his moment, for sure. I would notice when his songs came on, sometimes I’d even tap a finger on the wheel to the beat. Because of my dad's disgust with the lyrics, I realized I was never really listening. I was just hearing the songs.
Hearing a song without listening to its lyrics is a great way to begin thinking about this distinction. There are so many great songs out there that are really great to hear. The beat may be great and the melodic sounds may even give you a sensational feeling, but that does not imply that you have any idea what the lyrics are. Actually, it may even be the case that the lyrics give you good reason not to like the song. I know I find myself in that predicament, especially with more mainstream music, more often than not.
This is one way the whole ‘hearing’ thing gets mistaken for thoroughly listening to something. Hence, there is another way that this can happen. Before I elaborate any further, let’s reflect on an identical example of the way I have already detailed.
Namely, think about when someone says something and you hear the sound of their voice even though you do not listen to the words they utter. It happens all the time, and it is even a mistake in a higher majority of those times. But the reason why these examples are identical has something to do with the role you play in them.
For example, hearing a song instead of listening to it can probably be attributed to the way you found the sound to be desirable. It may not occur to you to listen more thoroughly. The sound in itself is sufficient but you do not acknowledge nor understand the words that are being used, at all. They probably go right over your head.
Similarly, when someone says something and all you do is hear a compilation of noise. It may be the case that you ask this person to repeat themselves, or you do not care. Either way, you did not acknowledge the words that were said. Hence, you did not listen. In these cases, you hear sounds but weren't listening because you miss a component of what was said.
Now, there is a different way that this happens. Sometimes, people acknowledge the words that are being said or the lyrics in a song. Yet, they do not listen; all they do is hear.
To frame the conversation on words better, think about two people having a conversation. Imagine their names are Jan and Bill. Now, Jan is telling Bill all about what happened to her on Tuesday. But Jan spent Tuesday with Bill’s roommate Ted, so Bill thinks that he has already heard the whole story. What Bill does not know, however, is that Jan had a whole night to herself, which was actually her main incentive in wanting to talk to Bill in the first place.
Jan gets done with her story and the first thing Bill says is, “I know, Ted told me everything”. Jan gets frustrated and reminds Bill of her talking about the night she had. In which, Ted neither had been with her nor had heard about. In this scenario, Bill was not looking to understand what Jan meant by her story, because he assumed he already knew. She spoke both in English and coherently, giving Bill no real reason to not have listened except that he thought he already had.
This is the second way we sometimes hear without listening. We frame our minds, we assume, we fix ourselves, and as a result, we do not grasp what someone is saying. This happens in the same vein as song lyrics. Sometimes we sing the same song 100 times and mess-up on the same line of the chorus, without realizing it. We assume a part of the song and continue to carry it out that way. We may even argue with someone about what the legitimate lyrics are because we are so consumed by our idea, by how we hear it.
Have you ever heard the saying, people hear what they want to hear? I think it’s entirely true, for the very reason that sometimes people do not listen, they hear. How great would this world be if we actually listened to each other?
Believe it or not, we all only have an ‘x’ amount of words and sometimes the words we know do not perfectly articulate the thing we mean to say. Hence, you should never assume you know what someone is going to say, nor what they mean. You should listen to them. You should be charitable to how they decide to explain their story to you. Most importantly, you should care about listening, because I trust you care for others to listen to you.
Next time you are talking to someone do not lose sight of the fact that they are a human just like you. They are someone who thinks, who experiences, and when they come to tell you about something they are going to have to call upon both of those faculties. They are going to have to use the words they know to articulate the thoughts they have about their experiences.
Try to understand what someone means when they speak rather than assume. Listen to them, always.