Listening to others like you listen to music

I recently read an account of a man on his way to his execution. When given the opportunity to express his last words, he simply said, “I am more than my life.”

This is a profound truth. We are all more than what is visible, more than our actions, more than what has happened to us. Our identities are never captured in a single event, a single descriptor, or a single characteristic. We know this because we automatically rebel a little inside when someone tries to put us in a box, even if the box is a good box. We want to say, “Yes, that’s true, but I’m also _____!” or “Sometimes I am ____________, sometimes I’m not.” or “I did do __________, but this is why and I meant to ________.” Teachers are notorious for putting students in boxes.

We are so quick to judge, to see others in narrow, confined ways, to categorize and then move on. Our hearing of the stories of others is broken. Our own brokenness arises from the way others listen to us because even though we know we are more, we start thinking of ourselves in these categories as well. We are more than the boxes, we are becoming more, we want to be more and we are called to be more.

Anthony Bloom, in his book, Encounter, gives us another way to listen, a way to “consent to the contents of what the other person says becoming part of us without picking and choosing: to listen to a person without discarding what is not congenial to oneself, or what is offensive or difficult to accept…to accept into oneself everything that that person will pour out, and to live through a shared experience in a kind of communion.” (p. 13) He says we know how to do this already.

We can listen to others the way we listen to music.

Think about that for a moment, think about how differently your mind and heart function when you listen to music. Music is never just one note. Unless we are music critics, we don’t approach it technically or objectively, instead we allow it to flood our minds and our heart. We relax and open, we give ourselves over to music, and even when the music is familiar we hear it a little differently each time with fresh ears and appreciation.

How would we listen differently to others if we listened to them like music?

We would not be in a hurry.
We would hear their beauty and experience the complexity of their whole being.
We would listen for the delight in each person and discover in their depths even more delight.
We would be listening in anticipation for the next part of their song rather than critiquing what we already heard.
We would be listening with enjoyment and appreciation and gratitude for their unique unrepeatable song.
We would create conditions to encourage them to keep singing.
We would hear how their song in intertwined with ours.  We could tune our songs to them and offer them opportunities to harmonize with us and others.
We would develop policies and practices that are hopeful, life-giving, growth oriented and extravagantly spacious.
We would rebuke others when they forget to hear the music.  We would say, “Maybe that is true, but they are more than that!”

Listening this way would heal us as teachers and make us the kind of teachers we want to be.   Listening this way would teach our students to listen this way.

We are all more.  We are all singing.

Bloom, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1999).  Encounter.  Oxford, UK: St. Stephen’s Press.

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