Hush, listen to wonders of life

Hush, listen to wonders of life

In my school perched on a northern India hilltop, the wind at night rushed furiously through the trees and sounded to me like a fleeing cavalry of galloping ghosts.

I remember this. I remember reading to the percussive sound of a monsoon rain, the unkind swish of a teacher's cane, the clinking cans which were the milkman's xylophone, the beseeching caller from a distant mosque.

Even as we grow older, the music of our youth never dims. Sound, after all, is essential to our personal histories, as if we are connected by a string of strange notes to another time and forgotten places. As children, our ears seemed as open as our minds, but as busy adults caught in a cacophonic planet, we have forgotten how to listen.

People wail online and harangue on Twitter and righteous opinion is hurled at us like tossed confetti. The television debate is often a poor version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral where angry rhetoric is fired from predictable positions. There is a lot of telling, but not much listening.

A wise fellow given to clever anagrams once shuffled the letters in "listen" and came up with "silent". Sometimes, to do one requires an embrace of the other. To listen is to open up my world to receive from yours, it suggests I can be enriched by what you say, it means I must suspend my belief that I know it all and empty myself of preconceptions. Listening is a quiet and lost humility.

I had no idea till last week who Zeno of Citum was - a Greek thinker, who else - but he wrote: "We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say." It is simple mathematics that Anton Casey might have applied. If he had read aloud his puerile Facebook posts, the words percolating within, their implication digested, he might have deleted them and stayed happily anonymous.

Casey didn't listen to himself or his prejudices, neither did some members of the online mob who flayed him. Few of us do these days, despite growing up to Simon and Garfunkel's 1965 warning about "People hearing without listening".

On the Net, irate comments to articles often have no connection to the topic at hand, just wild rants about imagined slights. Already amidst the tragedy of a missing plane there is irrelevant innuendo about meteors, aliens and Bermuda triangles. Who knew the human race needed so badly to be heard?

Listening is learning, it is reflection, it is an art worth reacquiring. It is not only about the words we hear, the tone we recognise, but also in the languages of the bodies we read. In a teacher's still stance and stern face, we have all listened to disapproval.

As Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf percussionist, wrote, listening is linked to sound, yet also feel. She would put her hands on the wall when a teacher played notes on the timpani - it produces a lot of vibrations - and found she could "distinguish the rough pitch of notes by associating where on my body I felt the sound". Low sounds in the legs, high sounds on face.

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