The conversation is on, courtesy of the fine lines the pope’s message on the World’s Communication day established about the need to step back to embrace listening in a fast-paced world. What about listening? How did listening influence people’s behaviour before the advent of technology? What is the state of listening in this technological age? Pope Francis made us to understand that listening is very important in order to have a dialogue and good communication. It is very important in order to cancel monologue and duologue in our conversations. He told us how not to communicate.
For him, eavesdropping and spying are the very opposite of listening, therefore bad communication. This writer believes listening fared better before the advent of technology both as ability and skill. Language was discovered more than 3,000 years ago. After its discovery, language became means of human exchange, interaction, cooperation and integration. With the discovery of language, human beings have to develop the ability to hear. Then the acoustic or tribal age took off. This age preceded the age of literacy and advent of technology. Of all the six senses, therefore, human beings developed hearing/listening better. The coming of language enhanced the quality of listening. That is why in an acoustic/tribal community, speech unites the tribal members.
When a king sits on his throne to address his subjects, they listen without distraction. The quality of listening got better and more advanced with time that its influence crossed over to other areas of life especially security. Ability in listening actually advanced the intuitive capability of people to escape danger, death, and other unforeseen circumstances. People would say, “we will rely on our intuition to guide us”, while embarking on a dangerous journey in the wild. Intuition became synonymous with listening or being attentive. After escaping a danger, they would say, “I just felt I should bend my head and behold a big stone dropped from the cliff. I think it is just a hunch.” Through the ability to listen, tribal people knew a lot of things, without privy to the facts.
For example men knew the one that the gods provided for them to marry by mere seeing her face for the first time. The man would say to the young lady, “The gods told me you are the one I would marry.” Without knowing the facts, their judgments were exact in many such cases. Through listening, people have natural premonition about when they would die. The late Alaafin of Oyo was reported to have told people who formed a scrum around his sick bed, “My ancestors said it is time for me to join them.” Few days later he died. However, the coming of technology has reduced the quality of listening. It has handed the quality to the idea of seeing. The coming of literacy and technology handed over the ownership of humanity to some of the tribal members and we call them elites today. Literacy and technology enhance their relationship to the world.
This, however, happens not without a cost. They lost their tribal root and loyalty. They lost their tribal language, folklores, adage etc, and therefore their ability to listen. In the world of technology, whatever is seeing in writing is true. It is the truth they know. The Pope is therefore saying we should step back to bring back this important communicative ability. He said imposing your views on other people most often renders communication impotent. Such communication cannot engender communion, unity, and brotherhood among men and women. He said it is healthy communication to listen for a long time before you talk so that what eventually comes out of your mouth will be meaningful and capable to contribute to common good. Listening is therapeutic.
A counselor takes his time to attend to his client. He refrains from talking; he listens instead. He allows his client to do the talking. The idea of talking brings relief to the client since he is able to pour out everything he had bottled up in his mind for a long time. The result is freedom from the bottled up anger and dissension, which have caused him great harm in terms of tendency to develop high blood pressure, heart failure, mental illness, and depression. This is why people who suffer from these tendencies look frantically for other people to talk to. They just want to pour out their mind in order to be free. For them, freedom is healing. We should therefore develop a listening acumen so that we can heal our fragmented world.
• Rev. Fr. Akodu Peter Kehinde is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ekiti on studies in Lagos.