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Hearing and Listening

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the May 1996 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter


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Often, when people use the word listen, they mean to pay attention and hear what is being said. A child wants to play but the mother says "Sit down and listen." Two students talk during class and the teacher says "Keep quiet and listen!" One person tries to interrupt so the other person says "Shut up and listen." Hearing and listening then becomes mixed up to the point of where people forget that when you hear or listen, you are really doing two different things. As a result, I run into people who assume that if I can't hear, I don't listen.

Hearing simply gathers information from the world outside, no different from seeing or feeling. You hear people talk. You look at people sign. You touch a deaf-blind person's hand. You read a book. You watch TV. You look around. You watch people. You watch yourself. After seeing, hearing or feeling, then what can you do?

Listen to the other person. Pay attention. If while someone is telling you something, you think of other things, such as your own clever comments, you are not listening. Give the other person a fair chance to say something. After all, you will want a fair chance too. Understand the other person's comments, talk about it and ask questions. Maybe you disagree, but perhaps you might learn something new.

Listen with your eyes. See things around you. Have you missed anything? Is there anything you can barely see? Do you look but not notice? If you are an artist, how would you photograph it? Paint it? Sketch it? How do the colors make you feel? The arrangement? The style? Do you see the beauty? The ugliness? The beauty in the ugliness? You just may start visiting art galleries.

Listen to your environment. Understand the things around you. Your environment is your family, friends, coworkers, fellow students, neighbors and the crowd of people around you as well as where you live, work, go to school, and your favorite places. Learn how your environment affects you and the people around you. Sometimes seeing is easier if you explore new environments, visit new places and meet new people. Maybe this will open new opportunities for you.

Listen to other people's experiences. Watch people's actions. What do they do that you could be doing? Why is it right? Should you be doing that too? What are they doing wrong? Why is it wrong? How can you avoid that? What do they do differently? Is it interesting? What can you learn from others?

Other people can be great teachers whether they realize it or not.

Listen to your own experiences. Meditate. Do you think about your experiences? Do you think about how do you feel? And why? What have you learned? What did you do right? Or wrong? How could you have done better? How do you make other people feel? Are you a positive influence? Or negative? Why do the same things happen to you over and over again? Are you doing something without realizing it? You could be starting on the road to self-discovery.

No, I cannot hear very well, but I can still listen to the world around me and inside me. When I take off my hearing aids and hear nothing, I cut out a great portion of the noise and distraction. I can see, observe and mediate better than if I could hear the traffic, my upstairs neighbor's dogs, the street construction, or some guy's car radio. One time when I was learning sign language, I sat with a group of deaf people with my hearing aids on. I only understood about half of what they were saying. For some reason, I decided to take off my hearing aids. Suddenly, with complete silence around me, I understood everything. If I can't hear, I really can listen better.

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