In conversations, many people hear what is being said but do not listen. One is a process that involves the subconscious perception of sound, whereas the other involves an active form of engagement. Too often when someone introduces themselves, the overly rehearsed structure of social introductions keeps us from listening to what the person is saying due to our own ingrained expectations. We expect that, as they introduce themselves, they will say their name and ask for ours in return. Although we hear their name being said, we too often forget to listen to what the name is in anticipation of our own response, and, as a result, we miss the name entirely.
Listening is focused and attentive yet is frequently dominated by our own thoughts and assumptions. All too often we filter out what is being said and substitute, in their place, our personal considerations, biases, and presumptions. As a result, we fill in the conversation with what we already believe or think we know is being communicated. In the process, we run the risk of setting up strainers or sieves that ferret out the diversity of perspectives being offered.
This type of behavior narrows our minds by limiting our cognitive palette to one color to paint the world with and we become impaired, unable to access the full spectrum of color that represents the diversity of experiences and perspectives of every individual. Take a needle for instance: for a child a needle may be a curiosity, for a parent a choking hazard, for a surgeon a tool, for a patient a potentially life-saving object, for an artist a way to create, and for a seamstress a way to mend. From objects and events to ideas and concepts, everyone sees things differently based on their unique experiences of the world, which not one person ever to exist can duplicate.
If we engage in listening, we afford ourselves the opportunity to build bridges to new thinking and climb heights to different viewpoints instead of at sea level stranded on an island of our own making. By opening the passageways, we can learn more than we ever thought possible from each other. The world is full of endless possibilities and perspectives— all we have to do is listen.