Listening is like oxygen—you can’t see it, but its presence keeps you from suffocating.

Listening to another and being listened to, in turn, is a kind of life-sustaining exchange. Without a steady flow of this exchange, in our private lives and in our society, the inevitable struggle that comes with being human remains exactly that: a struggle. The communion of listening and being listened to has a way of transforming this struggle. Loneliness expressed and listened to isn’t loneliness anymore, in that moment of exchange. That exchange turns it into connection, the connection that comes from being seen, understood, and accepted even in a state of vulnerability. Without this exchange—without listening—the struggle of being human occurs in isolation—suffocation of the spirit. You don’t turn blue when there’s no listening in your life, the way you would if you were deprived of oxygen. You are affected silently, invisibly, in a way that no medication can address, because medication cannot listen. Only humans can.

And what happens, then, when we do not give ourselves the missing medicine? Why don’t we listen deeply to the people surrounding us, and allow them the opportunity to listen deeply to us? What, in truth, is more important than this exchange? What are the consequences when we do not live with and for one another in this way?

Please walk with these questions today. Tell us what you find in the comments section below.

For a few more words on listening, check out a couple blog pieces I wrote recently, for On Being and the Garrison Institute.

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