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How to Listen and Why

hearing aid

Sociologist Les Back, author of The Art of Listening, has published a fine little essay on "the ordinary virtues of paying attention" in the New Humanist. Back's notions about listening are fascinating and important. More potent still are the quotes he inserts from world-class listeners like writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, cultural sociologist Flemming R√łgilds, and oral historian Studs Terkel. Here are a few choice quotes:

"Just as there is an art of storytelling, strictly codified through a thousand trails and errors, so there is also an art of listening, equally ancient and noble, but as far as I know, it has never been given any norm."

- Primo Levi

"Our political debates do not suffer from too much doubt but from too much certainty. The task of thinking is to live with doubt in the service of understanding, rather than living with certainty in the preservation of ignorance."

- Les Back

"The first thing I would say ... is ... 'listen'. It's the second thing I'd say too, and the third, and the fourth ... and if you do people will talk. They'll always talk. Why? Because no one has ever listened to them before in all their lives. Perhaps they've not even listened to themselves. You don't have to agree with them or disagree with them, all of that is irrelevant ... Take your time. Or no, let's put it the right way: let them take their time."

- Studs Terkel, giving advice to interviewers

Source: New Humanist

Image by Waifer X, licensed under Creative Commons.

tamara sm
7/22/2010 8:31:30 AM

A wonderful piece, but I have to say the accompanying illustration is distracting. Why not have two people, one speaking and one actively listening, instead of a piece of technology? I understand (after looking at the thing for a long time) that this is a hearing aid, but the ability to hear is not the point, but the ability to listen, which cannot be technologically enhanced. It's a human ability.