Monday, July 11, 2005

How To Be A Good Listener

After three days, eight hours each, of an Effective Listening course (a Marylhurst U Liberal Arts requirement), I emerged into the cool mist of this mid-July evening feeling drained and resentful about the deluge of homework still required to complete a course I view as “How to be Human 101.” I wasn’t down with the book the instructor chose, The Zen of Listening, which cannot be unaware of the pretensions of its title. In my modest opinion it is an uneven, repetitive and slightly simplistic book that indicates a form of engagement which employs a heightened state of being called “mindfulness.” I appreciate the concept of mindfulness, and the book does have some excellent moments, but I feel mindfulness is intuitive for any sensitized and curious human. Therefore I felt almost offended at the author’s assumption that most of us wouldn’t have the vaguest clue about characteristics such as compassion, sensitivity, or selflessness without a self-help manual to guide us through the process. I’m sure the author would have something to say about my” barriers” and “internal noise” which prevents me from wholeheartedly embracing the wisdom of her enlightenment.

After a careful delineation of how to ensure a state of mindfulness Rebecca Shafir, then suggests the reader, upon each listening opportunity, should attempt to “get into the speaker’s ‘movie,’”—which carries a world of chaotic possibilities. I’m picturing an average day of bounding from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, to Apocalypse Now, to This is Spinal Tap. I’m pondering the potential for utter confusion as I engage in my mother’s movie, potentially anything from Georgie Girl to Dog Day Afternoon . Or how about entering my husband’s movie, which might be some version of Blazing Saddles, Shrek or Rambo. I mean, picturing someone trying to be present in my own movie is laughable, my scripts are Coen-Brothers oddball.

I just see the whole technique as driven by jargon … and I acknowledge my strong resistance to formulas of any type as part of the backlash of a long-term, as-yet-unresolved teenage rebellion. Don’t even get me started on how I feel about books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Speaking of movies, I watched one after each long day of class. I watched The Barbarian Invasions, Lost Boys of the Sudan, and Some Kind of Monster. Each movie had its value. Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of The Barbarian Invasions—which I highly recommend to those that enjoy quirky, independent films which reference to social theory and political ironies—was the conversation held by the actors in a special feature separate from the movie. It struck me how intelligent, thoughtful and relevant these foreign actors are—so different from the majority of American entertainers today.

Lost Boys of the Sudan was simply a poignant film I think everyone should see. Completely low-budget and subtle, it broke my heart—not because of the tragedy of the early lives of these men, but because of the sincerity and earnestness of their day-to-day existence. Their awareness of the essential, and their unbelievable resilience is inspiring. No “mindfulness” exercises necessary for them, the simplicity of their needs and earnest sense of hope makes mindfulness intrinsic to their psyches.

* * * *

Sometimes Aaron floors me. He was moved by the stories of the men from the Sudan. Tonight as we trudged through the self-indulgence of Metallica in Some Kind of Monster, which is in no way to indicate that Metallica is singular in this characteristic rampant among modern-day superstars, there was a moment when James Hetfield was exhibiting an annoying level of self-pity. To James Hetfield’s lament that he can’t show emotion because he was never properly taught how to show love, Aaron exhaled loudly, shook his head and commented that maybe Hetfield should talk to one of the Sudanese refugees. I loved that he said that. After all the refugees went through as children (including seeing friends eaten by lions, crocodiles, shot, or kidnapped by mercenary soldiers) they don’t seem to have a similar block to expressing or showing affection or compassion for each other. In fact, they had to learn to refrain from overt physical contact in the United States because of the danger of attack. In the film the group of refugees discusses how they cannot exhibit any physical affection, such as holding hands which they happily did in the Sudan— a gesture which men cannot safely employ in many parts of our country.

Watching these films back to back brought new meaning to my perception of Western self-indulgence. (By the way, one of the few interesting moments in Some Kind of Monster is when Lars Ulrich calls Hetfield on this very quality)


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