The power of listening


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Paying attention to one’s own listening filters can help counteract stereotypes.

Noor Qureishy, In Depth Editor

Speaking, the art of verbal communication is central for nearly every aspect of one’s public and private life. The other half of communication, listening—arguably the more important one, according to TED talk speaker William Ury—is often trivialized or ignored. After all, the degree to which one listened during discussion cannot really be assigned a letter grade, and the depth to which one listens to a friend’s problem isn’t really valued if the advice given doesn’t help them in some visible way. However, as students focus more and more on fine tuning their speaking skills it becomes even more important to learn how to listen in an intelligent way to avoid acting ignorantly.

Listening is defined as “making meaning from sound,” according to Julian Treasure, the chair of the Sound Agency. Ordinarily, the sound around us is filtered down to the few pieces of information that each individual actually pays attention to. These filters shape one’s personal reality; culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions all narrow down the overwhelming waves of sound that bombard students’ ears every day.

Consider the somewhat horrific implications of this information. Since one’s own filters are often dependent on the way they were raised (culture, values, and beliefs especially will vary depending on characteristics like race and faith), certain stereotypes students have grown up with will routinely affect the way they see the world.

Students at SPA, who go to a school that is predominantly white and made up of students with mostly high-income backgrounds are especially susceptible to these stereotypes. Although SPA educates its students on the dangers of stereotypes in classes like History and English, the negative stereotypes around race, gender, or even certain ethnic groups or religions that nearly everyone has grown up hearing will naturally affect their actions. Students need to consciously think about the way that they listen to the information that’s presented to them every day. Only by paying attention to the ways one’s personal filters affect the way they listen can students actively keep stereotypes from affecting their lifestyle, however unconsciously.