The lost art of listening

We think we’re good at it. We can always improve.

We’re all swimming in the sound waves, but in a world with music, podcasts, audiobooks, and streaming content galore, it’s easy to take our ears for granted. In such a world, are we really listening to ourselves when we speak? The things we say, the questions we ask, the idle conversations we spin out in the few minutes before the Zoom meeting begins. We all crave connection, but we resort to tired, established, sometimes disparaging themes. What if we actually listened to the other party, and changed the conversation?

Georgie Nightingall: Talking to Strangers: Having a Meaningful Conversation

Asking someone about work: it’s a surefire way to start a conversation, no matter how you slice it. On the one hand, it’s a classic—you’re probably not going to ruffle any feathers with something so tried-and-true. And seeing as how work has become the gateway to one’s soul, this seems like an ideal intro question when faced with a complete stranger.

Unless it isn’t.

“When people ask you what you do, they are asking to see your professional work mask, and they don’t ask you about the other masks that you own: all the colors, the expressions, the masks that are in the closet rotting away.”

– Georgie Nightingall

As Georgie Nightingall expounds in her 2018 TEDxGoodenoughCollege, the conversations we have often lack substance. We remain on the surface, we’re apprehensive about pushing into depths of discomfort. 

And yet, we’re bored. We exist in the minds of others not because of the words we say or our integrity, but rather because of how we answer one diminutive question.

Ms. Nightingall’s talk reminds us that conversation isn’t a chore. When done right, it’s a joy—a chat with someone different can shift your entire worldview in a matter of moments. With all the words in the world and so many ways to string them together, why are we relying on such uncreative ways of speaking to one another? Don’t we deserve more?

Hamza Haq: Immigrants, the multi-culture, and the search for authenticity

When someone is different, it may seem natural to be curious about them. Their journey may feel, to the casual observer, like a story itching to be told. The etymology of a person is oftentimes muddled, and for those who have made a cross-cultural shift at some point in the family tree, this becomes even more true. 

And yet, this doesn’t stop masses of people from asking the most common question of immigrants across the globe: where do you come from?

Hamza Haq, standing at an intersection of his identities, explains in his 2020 TEDxToronto talk that sometimes, we can’t just neatly fit into a box in someone else’s mind. In doing so, we run the risk of losing ourselves in a bid to blend in.

“I can say this confidently because I tried to erase my culture and lost myself entirely. I had built an identity based on concepts that were so inauthentic to me but so deeply entrenched that I still struggle with understanding who I am.”

– Hamza Haq

Mr. Haq’s talk digs deeper into what happens when we accept the parts of ourselves that society at large tells us are too divergent, clashing with the status quo. The way forward isn’t to erase the difference between newcomers to a society and its residents, but rather to honor the unique perspectives, skills, and knowledge they bring.

Rebekka Walser: On Locked Doors and Traditional Mindsets

In the age of space exploration, supercomputers in our pockets, and even the ability to travel to the other side of the world in a day, we tend to think we’re an innovative society. In many ways, we are—as new thinkers spearhead the inventions and practices of tomorrow. 

But in other, more classic ways, we’ve given old problems a modern look.

“This clearly shows that the stereotype that girls have to set back their academic ambition to help take care of family members hasn’t been overcome to this day.”

– Rebekka Walser

Rebekka Walser isn’t interested in a future where she will have to beat down the doors that remain locked to girls and women. In her 2020 TEDxYouth@ESRM talk, Ms. Walser explains that educating girls is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough—society needs to do its part to elevate and mentor them, too.

In a world where young women are made to feel proud of the struggle in busting through a locked door, Ms. Walser imagines a time in which women can walk through as freely as their male counterparts always have.