Listening to Stories
“To listen carefully ... is the purest form of love”
Captain Bob ended the lively conversation by suggesting that everyone turn in early for the night to get some rest for an early morning departure the next day — a good night’s sleep is one of the best natural defenses against seasickness. We would have three long days at sea ahead of us before reaching our next island destination.
To wind down the evening and lighten the mood, I sang a few Jimmy Buffet tunes and commented on the fine meal Lua had prepared for us. We finished eating and the passengers headed back to their cabins for the night.
Paul and Julie walked back together, as did Tucker and Clara — arguing about something yet playfully bumping into each other on occasion as they made their way across the soft, uneven beach sand.
Bob, Lua, and I broke down the canopy tent and packed up the supplies to bring them back to the boat. Bob retrieved the video camera from behind the trees.
Would SlimC like the footage from this evening? Things were certainly heating up, but not with the love, romance, or emotional drama he was hoping for.
Tomorrow we would leave this comfortable beach behind and spend three days together at sea. Bob and I both shared a mild anxiety about what might happen on this next leg of the journey. There would be nowhere to go if things got out of hand between angry, stressed, or panicking passengers — no island forests to escape into, no secluded beach coves for some wind-down alone time.
Lua, a seasoned crew member with plenty of experience aboard cruising boats with ‘green’ passengers, also knew how difficult and tense these long ocean passages could be. Yet she seemed remarkably relaxed and buoyant, not the least bit concerned about the next few days out at sea. Hmm …
As we slowly walked back to Kalea, Lua commented,
“That was a fascinating conversation on the beach. Don’t you think so, Mister Rico?”
“Yeah, sure was.”
“You were listening, weren’t you? You know, there is a big difference between listening and just waiting for your turn to speak. Tucker is a natural extrovert and big talker, a personality type that is well-suited for success in a society dominated by a pervasive ‘culture of personality’, excessive celebrity worship, and where one’s ‘brand,’ hollow though it may be, exerts a strong gravitational pull of tribal identity. It is a shallow culture that has, unfortunately, infected many of the institutions today. But I’ve always preferred to listen more than talk. One learns so much more from listening than speaking. A bit of wisdom and understanding is the reward you get for more listening and less talking. Most people do not listen very well. Either their minds are a constant whirlwind of their own thoughts, beliefs, ideas, opinions, and conclusions; or they think talking is somehow strong while listening is weak.”
I understood. From my own experiences, I had observed that almost every problem within a group always seems to start with bad communication. Someone simply isn’t listening.
Lua went on to say,
“Listening is such an important act. It requires us to be fully present, and that takes practice, but listening doesn’t have to involve anything else at that moment. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. Listening to somebody, completely, attentively, is more than just hearing and processing the words they say. When you are truly listening, you are also paying attention to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not just the verbal part of it.”
“And listen to the story. What is being said? Why? Stories have real power.”
Indeed. Corporate controlled media outlets, television shows, and envy-triggering advertisers are telling most of the stories most of the time to most of the people, I thought to myself. And in the US, just six companies control 90% of all media.
Mass media organizations are the culture producers in modern society. The increasingly monopolized private sphere of the media — effectively a ‘consciousness industry’ — increasingly diverts and distracts attention away from important political and social issues, protecting existing networks of power and domination from any serious challenges.
The post-war creation of mass consumer culture — consumerism — as a response to overproduction from cheap fossil fuels and innovation and fueled by a global annual advertising budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, along with the expansion of easy credit, has been a boon to many. This mass appeal has shielded the dominant growth-based political economy from meaningful social criticism.
Consumerism, unlike the ordinary consumption levels humans beings require to live well, is a deliberate organizing principle of a linear take-make-waste economy based on abundant cheap fossil fuels and overcapacity of production.
Sadly, even mainstream environmental discourse has been seduced by the siren song of consumerism (as ecomodernism), peddling ‘green consumption’ and recycling (a.k.a., Garbage 2.0) as legitimate, feel-good, technological, market-based responses to ecological crises.
This techno-optimism is akin to jumping off a cliff and cheerfully expecting that someone at the bottom will surely figure out how to build some kind of device quickly enough to catch you before you splat onto the rocks below.
Media exposure, much of which reinforces consumer culture norms and economic growth narratives, occupies from one-third to one-half of people’s waking hours. Clearly, any program of transformative culture change must confront the substantial role of the media in reinforcing dominant discourses of economic growth and consumerism. It must tell a different story.
It goes to reason that the goal of an economy should be to minimize natural inputs to attain a sufficient standard of living. The ultimate purpose of an economy, after all, is the maintenance and enjoyment of life for a long time at a sufficient level of wealth for a good life.
The economy should not simply be an ‘idiot machine’ that maximizes waste in an attempt to satiate what are now obviously insatiable human desires for material wealth and extremes of comfort, convenience, and security.
I could relate to what Lua was saying about extrovert talkers like Tucker and ‘culture of personality’ because, like her, I am among that group of one-third to one-half of people who would be classified as introverts. We are good at listening because it is more natural for us. But asking us to go to a social gathering of strangers to mingle and socialize ‘just for fun’ is like asking a risk-averse person to take up skydiving just for fun. It isn’t.
Today’s hyper-competitive business-oriented mainland culture in the U.S. is a culture for extroverts. Many introverts have to fake it, costing them energy, authenticity, and even physical health.
With its ‘culture of character,’ Lua was from an island culture that recognized the value of introverts. Its citizens are fully aware that the quiet ones are those that read, write, cook, fish, surf. They are the artists, engineers, thinkers, and solvers of complex problems.
They have real power, just as extroverts do, but theirs is soft power, quiet power. It is power that feels no need to dominate, intimidate, or control others. This quiet power is a product of quiet ego.
‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world,’ Gandhi counseled. As George Washington did.
Surprisingly, back in the eighteenth century, delegates at the Continental Congress said that George Washington was the quietest man in the room and the best listener. He was mindfully tuning in to the emergent desires of the group as they debated and deliberated and came to realize that independence from Great Britain was the genuine will of his ‘tribe.’ After quietly and attentively listening to the group, he became an advocate for what the group wanted and then, its leader. That is quiet power.
Lua explained that listening also means listening to yourself, which requires solitude. And solitude is the catalyst for innovation and creativity and is necessary for the deeper thinking required to solve complex problems at their roots.
“To listen carefully, or observe something with the utmost attention, is the purest form of love. And love is no less essential for human happiness and well-being than food, water, and shelter.”
She whispered to me,
“You know, Mister Rico, the world is giving answers each day. But we must listen for them. Quietly”