Monday, June 25, 2018

Paying attention to the two roles we play: listener and story-teller

The 13-minute film “Listener” (2018, directed by Tarun Dudeja) highlights the two roles we play all the time – listener and story-teller. Both roles have a place in our day-to-day life. Unless we listen, we won’t know what others are saying, and unless we tell, we can’t communicate our views. However, the story-teller role dominates our life most of the time. And that puts us off-balance. That’s what the short film Listener shows. How does one balance between these two roles? Let’s explore in this article.

In “Listener”, the protagonist (Kumud Mishra) gets paid to lend an ear in a restaurant. Hire a “listener for Rs. 1495 per hour” is how one of the entries in the menu card reads. “First time?” asks the listener to the stranger who has hired him to listen for the next hour, “You can speak your heart out, whatever is bothering in your mind. Trust me, you will walk out of here as a much lighter person.” And the other person starts to tell the story.

The listener listens to an old man complain about how nobody at home listens to him, a young lady talks about her successful driving experience through crazy roads, a boy cries over the breakup with his girlfriend and how her status change on the social network got 56 likes. Through this process, we see that the listener is just listening, not judging or commenting. At the end, we see that the listener is also a good storyteller, especially to his daughter.

We have a need to be listened to and in a hyperactive world, listening has become an expensive currency. On the face of it, a large friend circle on Facebook and WhatsApp creates a feeling of connectedness. However, sooner or later we realize how superficial it is. How does one balance between these two roles?

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” This quote supposed have come from the first-century Stoic philosopher Epictetus. It is suggesting us to follow a 70-30 rule – Listen more than 70% of the time, talk less than 30% of the time. Perhaps that’s a good start. However, there is more to it than just the time spent on listening vs talking.

As one begins to experiment with listening, one realizes that the act of listening itself might involve deception. As we are listening, we might be simultaneously generating a story – a kind of running commentary in the head – on what is being listened to. And the internal storytelling is hampering the quality of listening. Thus storytelling might be a major part of listening itself.

How does one curtail the internal storytelling? Perhaps there is no formula. However, a good place to start could be to start paying attention to the story in our head. And ask, “Is this serving any useful purpose right now?” Perhaps one may realize that the continuous judgments may not serve any useful purpose. And the recognition itself may subside the commentary.

Try and see if it works for you.

Note: There is a twist at the end of the film "Listener". I feel that the twist is not relevant to the essence of this article. However, happy to hear your views.

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