There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 17, 2011

When I was just a kid playing with something or other in the living room, my mother, quite irritated, would call out from the kitchen, “Warren, I’m asking you for the last time, please, take out the garbage!” And too often I would respond, “Sorry, Mom, I didn’t hear you.”

And way too often, the fact is, I had chosen not to hear her the first few times, simply because I really didn’t want to stop what I was doing.

About the broader implications of choosing not to listen, do you remember that old saying, “There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear”?

I’ll get to that in a moment. First, here are a few more responses to our current series on silence and intentional listening:

I concluded last week’s column on wise King Solomon’s listening heart with a wish that our leaders today would also grasp the importance of heartfelt listening.

Ontario coffee companion Thelma Rhynas wrote: “I wish the last sentence of your article could come true.” Reflecting on the world’s long history of wars and atrocities, she lamented, “I don’t see an end to it, because there are so few people to influence the powerful non-listeners. I guess you and others like you have to do and speak their piece.”

Dr. Michael Bopp, of Cochrane, a specialist in participatory change, was more optimistic. He wrote: “It would be very interesting to explore what modern governance would look like if leaders developed the listening heart and discernment of Solomon. What practical steps would be needed, even locally?”

One necessary step is “a strong will to hold people accountable in an age where we avoid conflict for the sake of a superficial and transient ‘peace,’” wrote Dr. David Swann, Leader, Official Opposition of Alberta.

About accountability, a former school superintendent approached me at Cochrane Coffee Traders the other day. Dr. Cledwyn “Cled” Haydn-Jones shared his particular concerns over “the malaise of modernity,” with its “distractions and addictions to electronic technology and egregious consumption of products.”

We need to include “the savouring of silence” and the reintegrating of economy and ecology, if we are truly going to listen to the real, substantial world in which we live, he said.

To support his view, Cled quoted from American cultural critic Wendell Berry’s 1990 collection of essays, What Are People For?:

"What we call the modern world is not necessarily, and not often, the real world, and there is no virtue in being up to date in it,” Berry wrote. “It is a false world, based on economies and values and desires that are fantastical – a world in which millions of people have lost any idea of the resources, the disciplines, the restraints, and the labor necessary to support human life, and have thus become dangerous to their own lives and to the possibility of life. The job now is to get back to that other perennial and substantial world in which we really do live, in which the foundations of our life will be visible to us, and in which we can accept our responsibilities again within the conditions of necessity and mystery. In that world all competently wakeful and responsible people, dead, living, and unborn, are contemporaries.”

This is all about truly listening, with the intention of breaking with our destructive distractions and actually doing something about what we hear.

Of course, there are those even now for whom the ancient proverb still holds true: “There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear.”

It’s like I said at the beginning of this column about conveniently “not hearing” my mother asking me to take out the garbage. My willful deafness was a sad, childish excuse for irresponsibility.

As adults, the consequence of willful deafness in today’s complex world is not just about getting a scolding, however. Heartfelt listening is a moral obligation of the highest order; life itself depends on it.

I’ll close with a response from photographer James “Jim” Daubney, who in our July 27 column connected us to composer John Cage’s signature piece on stillness and intentional listening.

Jim drew my attention to something the great English novelist Joseph Conrad wrote:

"My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. That – and no more, and it is everything.”

To do my part in this task – and to make amends for choosing not to hear Mom’s simple request – I’m considering expanding this current series into a small paperback tentatively to be titled The Listening Heart, and I need your help. If I go ahead with the book, what thoughts on listening would you like me to develop further? Thanks.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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