Archive for September, 2022

Why is there so little listening? –Robert K. Greenleaf

I have had the privilege of serving people in six different countries (including the United States).  During one of my visits to The Netherlands a Netherlander and I were exploring our topic (‘Listening’ & ‘The Listener’).  We discerned, at minimum, there are always at least six persons present in any conversation.  What each person says are two; what each person meant to say are two more; and what each person understood the other to say are two more.  Of course, one could continue to identify and name more than these six but this number will suffice for now. 

We know that the fathomless depth of the one listening can open pathways that go far beyond words; these pathways can even go beyond the conscious meanings behind the words.  The one listening can listen with what Douglas Steere calls ‘the third ear.’  This ‘third ear’ opens the pathway to what is unconsciously being meant by the speaker.  Listening with the ‘third ear’ creates a climate, a safe environment, where the most unexpected disclosures emerge. 

We know, Gentle Reader, that this climate, this safe environment, for deeper self-disclosure is rare indeed.  This disclosure must be rooted in both the mind and the heart of the speaker.  This disclosure occurs not only because one is supported by a close-listening-friend (the external listener, if you will) but the speaker is also supported the ‘spectator-listener’ who resides within the speaker; this ‘spectator-listener’ listens while the speaker speaks [NOTE: You might remember, Gentle Reader, that each of us is what I call a ‘Reflective-Participant-Observer’ of our own life]. 

This inward listener (some call this our ‘teacher within’ or our ‘inner guide’), when fully awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full in the ‘now’ is more able to grasp what is emerging from many levels at once so, for example, the inward listener hears the words, hears the conscious meaning of the words and perceives the unconscious meaning of what is being spoken of.  All of this occurs simultaneously.  ‘Self-Disclosure’ requires, I believe, this inner unity; without this unity ‘Self-Disclosure’ is limited (or censored, if you will). 

Our inward spectator-listener seeks to be tuned to the various levels within and seeks to be tuned into the levels within the external listener.  What is occurring within the external listener’s conscious mind, as well as what is emerging within the external listener’s unconscious is never fully hidden to the speaker’s inward spectator-listener (some call this our ‘intuition’).  I continue to be amazed at the subtleties that the speaker-listener grasps as I listen.  Here is one example: Recently I was on the phone conversing with my closest friend.  As she was speaking I began to be a bit distracted by movement around me.  My friend paused and asked ‘You seem distracted, what is distracting you?’  I had said nothing, I thought I was ‘listening’ even though I was a bit distracted.  My friend was able to reach beyond the words and, in this case, beyond my silence, and ‘hear in my silence’ that I was not fully present. 

Gentle Reader, we will continue next time with our exploration of ‘Listening’ & ‘The Listener.’ 

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them. –Spinoza (1676)

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Nosce te Ipsum: ‘Know Thyself’ –The Oracle at Delphi

On and off for the past several months I have been thinking about and reflecting upon ‘Listening’ and ‘The Listener.’  For more than 55 years now I have been privileged and blessed to have encountered folks who were, and are, powerful listeners.  Today, Gentle Reader, I will share some of what has emerged for me as I continue to reflect upon ‘Listening’ and ‘The Listener.’  As usual I am not sure how many entries I will post; more than one, I think (how’s that for an ‘absolute maybe’?). 

Most of us know, if we stop and think about it, that our quality of listening is directly related to the one listening.  Consider Gentle Reader that there are, at minimum, two listeners involved.  The person who is listening AND the listener within the person who is listening. 

Now, we also know (if we stop and reflect a bit) that in order to listen ‘deeply and with ‘discernment’ that a certain maturity is required, that patience is required, that an openness to being a searcher-seeker is required and that a willingness – commitment – to listening with undefended receptivity is required and that an openness to being influenced is required.  I must also ‘Know Myself’ – my values, beliefs, assumptions, prejudices, stereotypes and prejudices – for I have many internal, integrated and subconscious censors at work that hinder my ability to listen ‘deeply’ and with ‘discernment.’ 

In other words, in order to listen in this way there must exist within the one listening a capacity to hear through many wrappings and one who is able to listen beyond the outer layers (think: the words spoken and the non-verbal language of the one speaking).  The speaker’s words, for example, are often halting and do not reflect what the speaker truly means – there is almost always a deeper, unconscious meaning residing within waiting to be called forth.

Since 1973 I have spent thousands of hours serving health care professionals – professionals who are required to develop their listening skills and their listening capacity.  I have listened to more than one tell me ‘I am exhausted from all of the listening I have to do.  I want to simply become a farmer working alone in the field or I want to be a baker working alone in a kitchen.’  I think that all ‘professional listeners’ – if they are truly listening as they are called to listen – experience ‘listening exhaustion.’  [AN ASIDE: Parents of 3-5 year olds also intimately experience this ‘listening exhaustion’ as do many other professions.]

What occupation/role/calling has not at moments looked less attractive to the one in the midst of on-going deep listening than another occupation/role?  I am thinking of the story of a cleric in France who announced to all that he was not able to carry on any longer and he, literally, ran off to hide in a cave.  The very next day someone from the village appeared at the entrance and announced that a person was dying and that he needed to confess.  Immediately the cleric got up and ran to the village in order to be with the person dying and minister to the person and the person’s family and to others in the village. 

‘The Listener’ must take time to renew – actually, ‘renewal’ is an on-going process AND there are times when ‘The Listener’ needs to stop, step-aside’ and consciously renew so that he/she might then re-enter re-energized, re-freshed and re-newed. 

Next time, Gentle Reader, will explore a bit ‘The Listener Within.’  I leave us today with the wisdom of Walt Whitman.

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

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We know violence.  Violence is manifested physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  Violence is done to and is done by.  Violence is direct and indirect.  Violence is intended and un-.  Violence is overt and covert.  Violence is subtle and not.  Violence is in nature.  Violence is in us.  Nature’s violence is neutral; it is part of.  Our violence is purpose-full; unlike nature we seek to injure, damage and destroy.  Our violence can be unintentional; the harm we do is an unintended consequence.  Sometimes we are caught in a ‘harm-harm’ dilemma; we must choose ‘between’ and in doing so we know we will be causing harm – violence will be done.  Are humans inherently violent?  Is there any culture that disconfirms this?  Have we, in our culture, accepted violence as a ‘given’ if not the ‘norm’?  It seems that we humans love violence.  What is violence anyway?

Here is a working definition: Violence = force used to injure, damage, deplete, or destroy.  And here is a working definition of Deplete = to make less by gradually using up, starving, or emptying.

Consider that one of the greatest types of violence is the violence we do to ourselves – self-violence.  Consider that we choose self-violence each time we choose to deplete the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions [our P.I.E.S.] that make up who we are as fully human beings.  Consider that ‘Self-Violence Matters, Really!’

Gentle Reader: What are your favorite ways of doing violence to yourself?  If you ‘know better’ why do you choose to deplete one or more of these dimensions of yourself?

The antidote to depletion is nurturance.  Gentle Reader: What are your favorite ways of nurturing each of these dimensions of yourself – your P.I.E.S.?  Which one of these dimensions needs sustenance at this time in your life?

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Good Morning Gentle Reader.  Yesterday I was resting (I had a heart procedure done on Friday) and I was reflecting.  I found myself reflecting upon my role as a ‘thought-partner.’  Among other things a ‘thought-partner’ listens with undefended receptivity in order to understand.  As I was reflecting a question emerged into my consciousness: What does one need in order to be a ‘good’ listener?  This is not a new question for me to hold.  After spending some time with this question I recalled four qualities that I believe I must have if I am going to be a good listener: Being Vulnerable, Being Accepting, Being Expectant & Being Faithful.  

Being Vulnerable = Vulnerable comes from the Latin ‘vulnus’ which contains two ideas: the first is open to being wounded and the second is to carry the wound gracefully. In order to listen well I must be open to being wounded [intentionally or un-] and if wounded I must strive to carry the wound gracefully [no spite or revenge].  I have found that when I listen with an attitude of ‘protection’ of my self then I do not listen as well.

Being Accepting = This means, for me, listening with undefended receptivity.  For me, this is rooted in an attitude of love, or caring, compassion and empathy.  If I can feel your pain, or struggle, or fear or anger or. . .and experience you as a fully human being it is much easier for me to accept you and to honor you and to create a safe place for you to speak your truth as you understand it.

Being Expectant = Perhaps another word is Hopeful.  I am expectant/hopeful that in listening to you while being vulnerable and accepting that you will tap into what is ‘the best in you’ – your virtues and your strengths.  Do I really believe in you?  Do I believe that you have the virtues and strengths to help you travel the path[s] you have chosen?  Am I, myself, ‘hopeful’?  If I am not I will communicate this to you and you might get the impression that it is you I am not hopeful about [when it is really me – which loops me back to being vulnerable; am I willing to share with you that I am not feeling so hopeful].  Perhaps the greatest gift I can give you is to confirm what is greatest in you – the actual and the potential.

Being Faithful = I use this concept as being one who stands with you [constancy, if you will].  In giving you the gift of my listening I will not internally rehearse what I want to say [a real challenge for me even on my good days]; I will, as Robert Greenleaf suggests, listen to deeply understand you – especially to help you clarify for me what lies behind and beneath what you are saying with your words.  By honoring you in this way you are invited to grow and you are affirmed for being a fully human being and I also grow, I am also affirmed and I am also honored.

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The unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates

Good day Gentle Reader.  If you have been following my blog [SEE MY LAST POST] you will have observed that I keep a ‘Little Black Book.’  I observed my father keeping one and I remember asking him what he kept in his little black book.  He replied: ‘Notes.’  I cannot remember when I began to carry my ‘Little Black Book.’  Two years ago I decided to transfer some of what I had captured in my little black books into a large black book.  This morning I was transferring some of the notes from my little black book into my big black book (I had recently filled this little black book and had begun putting notes into a new little black book (although this is a ‘little red book’).   As I was finishing up this morning I decided to share with you, Gentle Reader, some more of the notes I have entered into my ‘Big Black Book.’  These entries are personal notes that emerged during times of reflection.  They are listed in no particular order.  One or more of them might resonate with you Gentle Reader.


  • Remember: The world that I clearly seek has already been distorted by my unconscious mental processes and deep tacit assumptions.
  • Remember: Consciousness Counts, Character Counts & Conduct Counts.
  • Consider: ‘Developmental Inquiry’ = involves the art of engaging another by asking questions from a place of not-knowing; of developing a relationship rooted in curiosity, interest and belief in the wisdom that resides within the other.
  • Remember: The importance of deep tacit ‘Assumptions,’ ‘Attributions’ & ‘Attitudes.’  They significantly determine ‘reality’ for you.
  • Remember: The Sufi emphasizes essence over form and substance over appearance.  What do you emphasize?
  • Consider this Metaphor and Paradox:  ‘Life is a Journey’ and ‘I am the Traveler’ and ‘I am the Path’ and ‘I am the Destination.’
  • Consider ‘Power’.  Here is a dictionary definition: Power = one’s ability to act.  Here is my current definition of ‘Power.’  Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion.
  • Consider that ‘Challenges’ include ‘Problems to be solved,’ ‘Polarities to be engaged,’ ‘Paradoxes to be embraced’ and ‘Dilemmas to be resolved or dissolved’ [Right-Right and Harm-Harm Dilemmas]
  • Consider that people think reason differently when they think about a challenge in order to understand it than when they intend to take action.  Here is a corollary to consider: We think differently when we seek to understand than when we seek to take a position and defend it and/or when we seek to take action.
  • Remember: In order to live a conscious life you need to constantly refine your listening. 

My life is my message. –Gandhi

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