‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’ Luke 16:31
With hindsight, perhaps these “dark” days were the most influential and indeed beneficial days of my life. The temporarily loss of vision inevitably helped me to focus on my other senses. I learned how to pay attention to words, tone of voice and style of talking. I simply learned how to listen.
This grainy old photo did not just captured a crucial chapter of my life, but also served as a constant reminder that I should use all my senses properly and adequately with minimum selectivity and bias.
My brave and graceful mother did her utmost to look after me. She diligently read many storybooks to me and patiently answered my questions. Her stories were incredible (that is how I felt) they made me look forward to the day when I could read them with my own eyes. She reassured me that I would remember these days as “happy days.” She were right; it was happy days.
We may think that we are good listeners. In reality, we tend to be selective; love to listen to praise, and ignore criticism; pick convenient ideas, and ignore others more challenging ones. That is how dictators become tyrants, they surround themselves with an army of opportunists who know not only how to praise, but also how to make crimes look fair, and even essential for the over-all good of the society. Gradually, opinions become facts that should not be challenged or denied.
Social scientists believe that powerful people do not usually listen. It may be true, however it is very shortsighted. It is easier to pay attention when power slips and vulnerabilities creep, but it may be too little, too late.
Poor listening leads to hostility, miscommunication and ultimately leads to a break down in cohesion within the society. Deafness is not just a medical phenomenon, it could be a deliberate mental act to avoid facing reality and create pseudo -alternatives.
Arab leaders fall into this trap following the end of colonialism; rather than listening to their people, they listen to their own little voices. As a result, the society slowly slips into poverty, corruption, not to mention ethnic and religious tension.
If Nasr listened, he would never have initiated the six-days war. If Sadat listened, he would never have flirted with the Islamists. If Mubarak Listened, he would have retired gracefully, and If Assad listened, many Syrian lives would have been saved.
However, it is not just dictators who are poor listeners, many of us treat any discussion as a competition, wrongly believe that we know all the answers and our sole aim is to influence and impress.
Watch any talk show- if you think al-Jazeera “The opposite direction” is a bad example, look at any respected Western alternative. Guests may be more civil, but they hardly listen to each other. They only explain their own views, exchange few words and leave the program without any change in their original thoughts.
A quick glance at social media, like Twitter (though technically is not listening) and you find this stark fact right in front of your eyes. Anyone who challenges any fixed idea is bombarded by accusations, insults and may even be blocked.
Can we afford ineffective listening in the post Arab-awakening Middle East? The answer is undoubtedly no. At this crucial period where history is still in the making and societies are at cross roads, no one ( Arabs,Non-Arabs; friends, foes; majority, minority; Islamists and non-Islamists) can afford not to listen.
In 2012, the Arab-spring’s blossom would either yield lush green leaves of freedom or fade to a long term winter of discontent. The uncertain and intellectually demanding transitional period is tedious in comparison to the passionate pro-active act of protesting. However it is a must; a test of character for everyone, no one is exempt. Our children would never forgive us if we failed to get it right.
At a certain stage in my life, I became a very bad listener (I thought I knew better). Now I am trying to regain my listening skills and I hope you can join me. Let’s get out of our bubble, stop the tyrannical voice inside our mind and listen to each other more effectively in 2012
Wishing you all a Happy New Year!