Reader comment on Henning Mankell's passage ...

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    On Feb 18, 2012 Ricky wrote:

    What an amazing insight, not only with the observation about western culture and it’s incessant white noise, but about the art of listening, and the application of the African parable two ears, one mouth. 
    I teach teens in a public high school.  They are quick to connect with each other by BFF and gossip via technology-texting-(we used to write notes on paper in class).  In one of the classes I teach students are learning about the world of work, real life applications of skills learned in the classroom, and I decided they needed to learn how to listen.  On the first day, even before I outline the expectations of the class, they fill out a survey about how they listen by their personal investment to peers, adults in authority, their guardians, and then strangers.  They also recount the best conversation they have had within that past week, identifying the finer points of body language, and how they felt afterwards.  Then we move on to partner listening training.  My focus is modeled after Rosa Say’s management technique of the Daily Five Minutes, where managers actively seek out their employees and get to know them better (family life, struggles, joys, gripes) by offering them five minutes of uninterrupted listening to better be able to meet the needs of their employees and find out patterns of behavior and understanding in the company.
    In the classroom, I have modified this to these steps.  Each day the students are expected to seek out another person in the room at the beginning of class.  In a large high school, many students will never meet everyone, always in tight groups of safety.  First, the students must turn their chairs to face each other, feet flat on the floor, knees facing each other, sitting upright at the edge of the chair.  To me, this is offering the speaker your heart.  Students need to fully turn to each other to begin the process.  Next, students are to give each other eye contact.  This is offering the speaker your soul, your true self, the part of you that deeply connects the two together.  By now, the class is squirming and there is a plethora of uncomfortable smirks, and even some scowls.  We press on.  They are handed a list of probable topics for prompts in case the next four minutes do have the uncomfortable silence…remember, the students are learning this technique.  For the next four minutes, one person is designated the speaker, the other the listener.  The only direction for the speaker is the list of probable topics and can talk about anything, but the listener is directed to close the mouth, open both ears wide, maintain eye contact, nod encouragement if necessary, and practice listening with an empty mind.  After the four minutes, I prompt the group to switch focus for one minute, and now the listener recaps what they have heard, as the speaker maintains eye contact, posture, and nods encouragement.  Teens will be teens, so at times there is a small discussion, but they are also learning to remain comfortable in their skin, and become active listeners.  Then roles are reversed.  I know it seems counterintuitive to have a timer on this, but what I have found is even the most timid participant makes it through the process, and there is much more ease within the classroom.
    For me, practically, I am ensuring that the students will be able to be comfortable in the front of the room by the end of the several months we are together to present a final project, because ideally they know each other or at least have listened to each other.  Beyond that, the students are encouraged to acknowledge each other outside the class room with eye contact and a smile.  This is huge in a large comprehensive diverse high school.  However, on a much deeper level, my hope is that they begin to trust the process, and develop strategies to remain calm, and realize that we only have this unique moment, ‘now’, and that the ‘now’ is the most powerful teacher there is.  In western society there are very few role models for youngsters to emulate calm, so teaching the skill of listening, being present in the moment, and understanding you don’t need to solve everything, you just need to be there, is for me a focus I will continue to offer.  Animals live the present moment even if they don’t listen as humans can, so we can take that and enhance our relationships with each other by including listening with an empty mind, without blurting whatever comes to mind, without needing to tell our own story, and with an understanding that listening is a great way to learn about and experience life.

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