An Archaic Guide on Listening


“Admiration is the opposite of contempt, and it is, of course, a sign of a more reasonable and equable nature; all the same, it too needs quite a lot of caution, and perhaps even more.”

Plutarch

Introduction

Epictetus contends that there is an expertise in conversing by which the talker benefits himself, as well as the listeners. Without such expertise, the speaker would harm, yet even when the speaker possesses such ability, a reasonable portion of his listeners are wronged. Listening is a requisite ability if the listener is to profit, in much the same way ability is requisite when you are examining a work of art that was constructed by an able carver. Consequently, the efficacy of the discourse is hinged on the competence of the listener to discern and reap benefits from what is being said. 

Open-minded listening necessitates quietness, absent of derogatory and unsettling intrusions. Furthermore, it calls for ridding yourself of envy of a speaker’s prowess and disdain towards his shortcomings. You should be discerning and countering to brilliance to your merit and when blunders are noted, contemplating on how you could improve or surpass them. Accordingly, we should be focused on both reasoning and subject matter for the good of our intellect. The art of listening, as well, demands a degree of discretion; inquiry should not be employed as a means to deflect, digress or wittingly put forward a question the speaker is inept to respond. For, a discourse relies on a combined effort between the speaker and listener, thus even declarations of honour and acclaim should acknowledge the speaker’s characteristics. Moreover, the listener should react decently to apposite individual judgement, unaccompanied by ignorance or remonstrance. On the one hand, to stand up to said criticism shamelessly and dismiss it is the quality of an inconsiderate pest; on the other, to hurry into the consolatory weapons of your friends unveils delicacy and fragility with no control or firmness. The responses and backlash of the listener are expressions of his ethical nature. 

A new listener can be at the helm of failure; either through bashfulness which stops him from inquiry and in turn, results in unease and uncertainty when complete inevitability subsequently provokes him to put a question; or by putting on airs and simulating understanding when he is actually unknowing and is simply substantiating his incomprehension. The listener should, therefore, attempt to pivot on the speech, recurrently grappling with his ignorance; listen to comprehend, not to make a response. In contrast, the listener shouldn’t at once credit everything as gospel – the mind is for setting alight, not for thoughtless stuffing. To sum up, the basis for genuine living is genuine listening. 


The Ears are the Handle of Virtue

In the same way women throw away their reticence with their clothes, so do youthful people abandon their childhood robe. In doing so, they renounce both bashfulness and carefulness, soon depriving themselves of appropriate clothing and spilling over with hedonism. The transition from childhood to adulthood forms a new leader; this is where you take on the godly authority of reason and rationality, for only the sensible and well reasoned earn the acclaim of liberty – they live as they desire since they desire only what is essential. On the other hand, inferiority fosters disobedience and unreasonable deeds; there is little liberty in indecisiveness and hesitancy. 

It is philosophy that infuses young men with the brave, masculine, ideal and disciplined harmony and disposition that truthfully arises from rationality. On condition that no flattery and defeatism has polluted the youthful man, the ears are the handle of virtue. For, a young man who refused all orders and never savoured well-reasoned dialogue continues to be unproductive and sterile of goodness, with the likelihood of growing spoiled and unnatural towards failing and wrongdoing. When you grant such proclivities to wander without restriction down their natural course [since their essence is not self-control through the use of good argumentation to eliminate or redirect them], there is no untamed savage which wouldn’t reveal itself to be domesticated in contrast with man. 

Two Ears, One Tongue

It is discernible that for the majority of people, their approach towards listening is turned upside down, as it were; they work on their speaking skills previous to learning to listen, assuming that speaking takes mindful inquiry and consideration and virtue will accumulate even with an inattentive attitude towards listening. As Plutarch says, “Nature gave each of us two ears, but one tongue, because we should listen more than we speak.” For a young man, quietness is an embellishment, more so if he has the capacity to listen without growing exasperated and abruptly retorting the speaker, even when the remarks are decidedly undesirable, he tolerates them and holds back his tongue until the speaker finishes. Furthermore, to politely and briefly stand by following his final remarks to discern whether the speaker wishes to mention any additional words, improve, or shed light on something. In contrast, to castigate in vengeance, intervene during his talk and neither listen nor be listened is disgraceful and despicable. 

People’s Conceit and Envy

He who possesses the ability to attentively listen in a composed and deferential manner is responsive and retentive of beneficial comments. Simultaneously, the futile and counterfeit is clear and perceptible to him since he is directing himself at the truth rather than winning the disagreement. If you wish to inculcate utility, focus more on reducing the affectation of others since people are commonly brimming with the nonsense of conceitedness and thus are unreceptive listeners. There is nothing more unappetizing to the envious than other people reasoning competently, for their envy compels them to hear all that is good as dreadful, displeasing and undesirable. Jealousy is annoyance towards other people’s prosperity, status or attractiveness; it is other people’s success that displeases the envious person, begrudging what is to his benefit. Consequently, just as light is lawful for those with the faculty of sight, so is discourse for those with the faculty of perceptive listening, if they are disposed to open-mindedness.

Know How to Praise

The perceptive listener should put an end to the incongruity and antagonism between the need for command and the need for status and eminence and as a worthier substitute, attentively listen to the talker courteously and gallantly. Moreover, you must know when to commend the speaker; if he demonstrates proficient ability, you should approvingly express admiration and cheer for his purpose in making known what he understands well, and in making use of the reasoning that he personally regards as persuasive to attempt to convince other people. When a man achieves prosperity, you ought to recognize that it is by no mere fortune or arbitrary triumph, but merited by conscientiousness, diligence and careful learning; such victory is worthy of our adulation and desire and we should strive to breed it within our life. 

Contemplation and Inquiry

Shortcomings are easier to discern in others than in yourself; careless calculation, empty expression, vulgar speech and exhilarating or flavourless pleasure in searching for praise are plainer to see in others than ourselves when speaking. Thus, you should shift your careful examination from the orator to yourself and inquire whether you are making the very same errors without foreknowledge. Moreover, when you are confronted with people’s omissions, you need not resist reciting to yourself Plato’s phrase, “Am I really sure that I’m not like that too?” – In the same way you perceive your eyes mirrored in your neighbours, where conversing is affected, it too is assured that your idiosyncrasies are mirror images of others. Consequently, you should put an end to hurriedly dashing into disdain of others and instead cultivate care and alertness when speaking. 

When you have turned away from the talk, you can extract something you think the speaker managed unsuccessfully or incompetently and attempt to deliberate on it by putting yourself in his position, as it were, and treating the errors through considering mistakes, rectifying a flaw, and conveying an abstraction in a different manner. Conversely, you can also take an original stance on the subject matter and engage as such.


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