“Hi! This is Dr Frasier Crane on KACL 780. I’m listening.”
With these words, Dr Frasier Crane, the fictional psychologist with a radio talk-show of his own, wove his way into the confidences of not just the numerous individuals who called into his show, but also an America that was in need of reassurance. The hugely-popular sitcom Frasier ran from 1993 to 2004, garnering a lot of love from American audiences and winning a lot of awards. This show was notable not only for its understated use of humour in the style of an Oscar Wilde play, but also for embracing the tagline “I’m listening” wholeheartedly.
Listening is a gift that human beings possess, and yet we don’t seem to utilize it. Modern-day existence prevents us from listening, because we prefer to talk, to shout, to scream. This echoes what the great George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Our lives, and lifestyles, seem to be dictated by pressures. When we step into a job, or begin a new course, we, unwittingly and unconsciously, put ourselves under a lot of strain. We crave validation from our family and colleagues. We try our best to satisfy our desires, our wants, our needs because we want to. And we make ourselves believe that we have to.
We keep getting told in school that we must obey and respect our elders, because “the elders are always right”. And so we drift through life trying to live up to expectations we did not set, goals we did not choose for ourselves, ideals we never thought of ourselves. We are made to stay quiet when we see something bad or untoward happening, or if whatever is happening is not in sync with what we want. That explains why most of us choose to look the other way, especially at a time when our lives are surrounded by injustices of various kinds—physical, psychological, political and so on. Listening hurts, because we feel we have listened to others a lot. It becomes fatiguing, and therefore it is very common for us to “zone out” or get distracted when someone else is speaking.
But now there’s a problem.
If we have to keep quiet at all times, and not tell anyone about our feelings or about the anger and hurt building up within us, what do we do? Where do we go? Like every pressure cooker needs a valve for releasing pressure, we need to vent too. So we pick out our families, friends, colleagues, and possibly the entire world, and let out our frustrations, anxieties because we want someone to listen to us, instead of talking to us, or as we constantly fear over us. To borrow from Shaw’s maxim, we labour under the illusion that we have to make somebody listen to us since the whole world seems to be busy. Most times we will be fortunate enough to find someone like that. But what if there’s no one to listen to us?
Modern-day existence prevents us from listening, because we prefer to talk, to shout, to scream.
Enter the age of social media, where it is very easy to vent out our grievances without being censored or scolded. After a lifetime of having our voices throttled by circumstances and authority, we decide it is time to talk. Or rather, to shout, to scream. We think that no one can throttle our voices because social media is a vast and anonymous ocean. But there’s a caveat here.
There are so many different voices on social media, propagating millions of diverse views, that it is impossible to keep a track of opinions. So we start sharing links with clickbait titles, because it is easier to judge the merits of an article on the basis of an attractive title, rather than the views enshrined within the article.
We outrage on various issues and end up getting lost in a sea of hashtags, because it is easier to deal with hashtags rather than our real-world pressures. We get angry when celebrities don’t seem to endorse our views, and so we attack them. And then there’s the pressure of looking good and being perceived as perfect and upright, because no one apparently wants to see a Facebook story, Instagram’s, or Whatsapp’s about how sordid our lives really are.
In fact, the reason why I bring up social media, is because this “struggle” to make ourselves heard online, spills over to our offline lives as well. We feel scared to point out injustices happening in real life unless we are assured of “online” mileage from it. We feel cheated and aggrieved when other people cut us off while we’re speaking about something—and so we decide to return the favour. No one believes in having a healthy conversation anymore. Everyone wants to react, because a reaction is instant, and can lend you much needed immediate attention. A conversation, on the other hand, is perceived to be boring.
Here’s the conundrum: if everyone starts talking over and above one another, who will listen to them? If we keep outraging over anything and everything under the sun, how will we understand what the problems are, and what the solutions are? And so we come back to the word “discussion”.
Discussing something does not imply that we do not react to something, or that we are silent bystanders in the general scheme of things. It means that we are ready to look at issues critically, and contemplate each other’s respective issues and grievances, in order to ensure a more balanced and just world.
That is why listening has become a rare art in today’s dog-eat-dog world. Instead of blindly “raging against the dying light”, as Dylan Thomas would put it, perhaps we need to examine ourselves and wonder whether there is someone who will be willing to listen to us, to accept and discuss our views, and give us a chance to better our thinking and lives.
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