Young african woman at work

The Difference between Hearing + Listening

So, I finally broke down and got a hearing aid. Not really that unusual in someone my age (50+) but still, it feels like I’ve lost some major part of myself—that my body is starting to rebel as it begins the long, slow journey to “old age.”  But, truth be told, I had gotten really tired of always saying “pardon?” or “could you repeat that?” or even “run that by me again” when anyone spoke to me. So I finally accepted the inevitable and went to see my ENT doctor.

And that’s when a funny thing happened…an epiphany, really.

After I received my hearing aid, and had it fitted and tested, the very next day I went on vacation with my family. We had been looking forward to this time together, and were all really excited to get to our destination and start having fun. My wife, sons and I all settled into a relaxed pace pretty quickly, but as the days started to pass I noticed something interesting. Even though I now had a hearing aid, and in all honesty could probably hear better than anytime in the last 10 years, I was still constantly saying, “pardon?” and “say again?” It finally struck me that even though I was now able to ‘hear,’ my ability to ‘listen’ hadn’t improved at all.

When I think about the lives we all lead, the word that comes to mind is ‘distraction.’  We are always looking at our phones, or checking our emails, or watching the 24-hour news cycle.

We always seem to be distracted by something.

Maybe that’s a bad thing, or maybe we all feel we benefit from being plugged in all the time. But if you think about it, it probably has a fairly big impact on our lives and relationships. That’s because by being plugged in 24/7, our focus is always on ourselves—how we feel, what we think, and what other people think about us.­ While on holiday with my family, I found myself constantly checking my phone, or looking through my emails, or logging into Facebook. It struck me that instead of these things making me more aware or more relevant, I was actually just being selfish.

I’ve always believed that there is great benefit in being reflective. Plato said, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” which is probably a little extreme, but he makes a good point: having time to think, to ponder, to listen, is vitally important to our ability to ‘grow.’

I like to think that’s something Banyan does well—we help people take time to reflect on their lives; to consider the choices they make; to think about what is really best for them before they choose an action. That reflection is where ‘change’ is born. But that process can’t occur until someone takes the time to first ‘listen.’ That’s what I think we’re good at—getting someone’s attention and encouraging them to ‘listen.’

Once I had a chance to think about all this, the last couple days of our vacation were really wonderful.  I listened to my in-laws tell stories about my wife’s childhood that I had never heard before; I heard opinions about politics, history and modern culture that I never knew either of my sons had; I even learned how to tell the song of a Robin, from a Blue Jay, from that of a Mockingbird.  And I could do this all because I made the decision to better live ‘in the moment’—and to listen.

So basically, by having to get a hearing aid, I not only improved my ability to hear, but ended up with a newfound appreciation for listening as well. A skill I think will make my life better, my relationships stronger, and my work more impactful.  The only down side is—batteries are not included.