Learning to Listen aka “How can the Bar be this Low and You’re Still Tripping Over It?”

Hearing, I believe, is one of the senses most taken for granted. Listening, subsequently, a skill most under-developed. Relegated to a secondary concern. An afterthought. Oh, I should’ve listened…. It’s an unfortunate development in and of itself but what it seems a symptom of is perhaps even more troubling/upsetting.

We don’t listen to each other because we don’t care about each other.

We have been and are being conditioned not to care about each other. Not to believe that everyone’s voice is important. That everyone’s story is worth listening to. Worth appreciating.

Listening in this age is an under-developed skill by design. The structures and powers that be benefit from our disengagement with the world and with each other. They secure their power and retain their privileges through our apathy.

Because of this, those of us who make an effort to listen and respond to what we hear become dangerous. Liabilities. Targets to discredit and criminalize at all costs.

Because listening is not just listening. It is turning sounds into story, transforming tones into the tangible. Into a foundation. For what? Empathy–ancient but awesome magic.

In this video, Radiolab co-host Jad Abumrad discusses the affordances of working in an audible medium. Chiefly, he talks about listening as being a tool for co-engagement and co-authorship–imagining story together. Which, he believes, paves the way for empathy. Or, at the very least, leaves a place for it. To grow. To be built. To live.

And, what a beautiful and optimistic idea this is–that through dreaming together we can create a better world. We can care better for each other. We can care at all. (It makes my heart want to pull a Grinch….)

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Which is exactly the response the powers that be want us to have. Jaded and disillusioned (applicable terms to describe most of my–bad— high school poetry coincidentally enough…)

Anyway, tangential rant over. For now.

Let’s talk about some podcasts! Well, one podcast. The Truth one I eeny-meeny-moed. You’re Not Alone. It was an experience.

Full disclosure, once upon a time, I used to listen to Welcome to Nightvale. A very popular podcast another member of our Alchemist Network–Masooch–talks about at length in this post. Check it. There are lots of links for you to explore.

So, that’s my only reference point for podcasts. A little bizarre but usually very plot-driven. Lots of ear candy–musical interludes, ample sound effects. I mean, in an audible space, everything becomes a sound effect, even silence. It’s strategic.

I found all of these preconceptions to be useful or to hold true while listening to You’re Not Alone.

In this podcast, listeners are introduced to a character to named Jared, an Afghanistan war vet suffering from PTSD. His condition seems to manifest in a cacophony of disembodied voices that follow him around, mocking and taunting him, trying to provoke him to do bad things or think bad thoughts. This portrayal kind of reminded me of what paranoid schizophrenics report experiencing. In fact, people suffering from both schizophrenia and depression are advised to maybe skip this podcast. And, I think the warning was well-warranted and very responsible of the creators.

At times, it could be incredibly overwhelming to listen. The voices kept coming, one after the other, steady whispers that turned into a deafening drone. Jared’s own voice was sometimes muffled by these voices–while the character he is interacting with sound perfectly clear to listeners. I thought that was very clever and it effectively communicated how Jared hears himself–as almost muted in the maelstrom. Every word a fight.All of this noise, too, contrasted well with the quieter, calmer moments. It instilled more meaning in them, to hear how much must be silenced in order for a scrap of calm.

The voices never really go away though. We see this at the end, when Jared is performing for his friends. The voices harmonize with him. Perhaps, they are more pacified? But, their repetition of the titular phrase still seems wholly taunting. Maybe that’s my jaded-ness speaking, though. The end of this podcast just seemed bittersweet to me.

Overall, I did feel that this podcast illustrated what Mr. Abumrad was talking about very well. Through audible means, a sense of empathy and compassion was created here. I felt for Jared. Wanted him to have a better ending. A more satisfying answer to his problems. It bothered me that I felt he didn’t get what he deserves–and, see, that’s evidence I care about him, that he has value to me. In order for someone to deserve better, they must first deserve something at all to you. Quite the concept, apparently. That latter thing.


I guess I digress.



***Kind of unrelated and a lot disturbing–great way to start a sentence–but the podcast reminded me of this story I read online a while ago. It’s one of the few that’s unsettled me and I still can’t actually click on the image attached to the story. I like to think I’m pretty unflappable but this is just one that really, well, disturbed me. It’s not audible or anything but I think its theme runs in the same vein as the podcast. Hope you enjoy ^.^***