To Listen More Than We Speak
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
— Epictetus, Greek philosopher, 55-135 A.D.
Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory is where Nobel prize-winning biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi made his home after WWII. During the winter of 1974 he observed herring gulls feeding their young, and wondered at the complexity of the process:
“These gulls…have a red patch on their beaks…the hungry baby knocks at the red spot. This elicits a reflex of regurgitation in mama, and the baby takes the fish from her gullet. All this may sound very simple, but it involves a whole series of most complicated chain reactions with a horribly complex underlying nervous mechanism. How could such a system develop? The red spot would make no sense without…the knocking baby and…the regurgitating mother. All this had to be developed simultaneously, which, as a random mutation, has a probability of zero. I am unable to approach this problem without supposing an innate ‘drive’ in living matter to perfect itself .” *
The word perfect, used by Szent-Gyorgyi in describing the mystery of adaptation/change, is not perfection in the sense of having no faults, flaws, blemishes or cracks. In reality, if perfection would be reached in the flawless sense, there would be stagnation—no desire or compelling need for moving toward a more efficient, and/or more elemental, and/or more elegant solution or state of being. We, and everything around us, are ongoing creations.
Instead it is a stretching and striving toward an alignment that embraces the necessary and essential elements of the chaos of mysterious life—fueled by listening—my entire self in conversation with all of its parts: the fearful, the ugly, the humorous, the raging, the weak, the gifted, the willing…
This character trait of nature, this stretching and striving (on all levels) is rarely as poignant when the odds of survival are low, or stress is at an all-time high, and the energy necessary for such basics is depleted. It is during those times that listening with those two ears we are blessed with becomes a matter of survival, for all of us.
Understanding, acknowledgment, and compassion flow through deep listening, all of which are just as essential to the well-being of human beings as air, water, and food. When we are quiet within our entire self and listening to our fullest capacity, the noise of inconsequential daily chatter falls away, and we are then able to hear that one word, that one phrase—that red dot moment that transforms a mere conversation into an evolvingconversation. It is a moment that propels the speaker and listener toward powerfully meaningful and creative levels—a fulsome embrace of the other that moves us into empowering clarity and life-giving connection.
The order within chaos, that innate striving toward our better selves, is everywhere. We have only to stop talking and doing, and listen to the human being in front of us. And remember, sometimes that human being, that other, is yourself.
* James Oschman, Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance. 2003