Are you listening?

Listening is how we learn what we don’t already know

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. -Peter Drucker

My favorite category of learning is almost certainly what I encounter from the most unlikely of sources. From unexpected sources, you often might find unexpected information – even discoveries – that reveal aspects about the world, or ourselves, that we never would have otherwise.

Many years ago I was working at my local rescue mission. One day, an addict in the recovery program asked if I were an addict. I had something on my mind and, half-distractedly said “No, I’ve never been that organized.”

The previously conversation-filled room fell silent. “What did you say?”

With papers in my hand and another project filling my mind, I had to stop and think about it. “Being an addict takes too much time and concentration – you have to find a reliable source for your drug of choice, you need to budget an expense that, in many cases eliminates actual basic expenses like food and shelter, you never have a day off, you have to focus on finding (and paying for) your next dose, and in most cases, hiding it all from family, friends, employers and, of course, law enforcement. That sounds like real work!”

Besides leaving a packed room in silence, that unexpected encounter revealed to me that real learning, as in unforeseen discoveries, are all around us and we can, if we pay attention, learn much from those we never would have thought.

Even an addict has (or develops) a set of essential and transferrable skills that could be of crucial importance in a more productive setting. From being absolutely single-minded on a specific goal, to never giving up, positive traits and habits are hidden in the daily life of an addict somewhere behind the obvious.

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts. -Khalil Gibran

Ever know anyone who starts talking and can’t stop? Few things are more unsettling – and perhaps (eventually) more reassuring – than silence. I know a few people who can’t stop talking because they can’t bear their own silence. Talking is great, but you won’t learn anything new if you keep talking.

Learning from children

We as parents and adults in general seem to take as a given that we need to teach our children – and we do need to. But we might also learn some important life lessons from them.

One principle that children learn early on that adults seem to forget, is to do whatever works. Children learn to be loud, quiet, persuasive or compliant to get what they want. Adults seem to get stuck in “doing what we’ve always done” whether it “works” or not.

Here are few other things we could learn from children;

  • 1) (almost) always be happy
  • 2) never sit idle
  • 3) cry for everything you want
  • 4) cry, scream or pout and get over it
  • 5) trust your instincts when it comes to others
  • 6) animals are the best judges of character, but children are a close second.
  • 7) time seems to stretch on forever or pass like a shadow
  • 8) sometimes all you need is a hug. Or a moment to yourself.
  • 9) you won’t always get what you want. Or what others have.
  • 10) use your words

And if you can learn from an addict, how about from a thief?

From a thief you can learn to;

  • 1) work at night and in silence
  • 2) if you cannot gain what you want in one night, try again the next night
  • 3) love and trust your co-workers just as thieves love and trust each other – even if it’s only because they have to.
  • 4) be willing to risk your life even for a little thing
  • 5) don’t attach too much value to things even though you have risked your life for them – or you’ve had them a long time – just as a thief will, out of necessity, resell a stolen article for a fraction of its actual value
  • 6) withstand all kinds of abuse and threats but remain what you are
  • 7) believe that your work is worthwhile and don’t be willing to change it
  • 8) always assign the best person for the job
  • 9) a project isn’t finished until it’s finished. And even then, it probably isn’t.
  • 10) there’s always someone better than you

Show up

Some have said that life is 90% showing up. That is probably true.

Another principle that could open doors of opportunity that others may not see is to listen – especially to those whose voices are most often neglected, minimized or excluded entirely. They just might tell you something your teachers or graduate seminars never would have imagined.