Julian Treasure is founder and chairman of The Sound Agency, a UK-based consultancy that asks and answers the question: “How does your brand sound?”
Julian’s vision is to make the world sound beautiful, by helping individuals to make and receive sound consciously, and companies to discover that good sound is good business.
He recently gave a Ted Talk entitled: “Five Ways to Listen Better.” Conscious listening, he says, leads to understanding.You can watch it here:
Allow me to apply some of his research and points.
First, consider crowd noise. Everyone is talking all at once.
Now, in the midst of all that noise, I will call upon the names of two people, saying their names and telling them to pay attention. What will happen? They will stop talking and listen.
This happens because we recognize patterns to distinguish noise from signal, and especially our name.
Another sound technique: differencing. Play some constant noise—anything. TV, phone, iPod, whatever. Now, if you leave this noise going for more than a couple of minutes, you would literally cease to hear it. We listen to differences and we discount sounds that remain the same.
Now close your eyes.
Sound places all of us in space and in time. By closing your eyes, you become aware of the size of the place you are in from the reverberation and the bouncing of the sound off the surfaces. And you’re aware of how many people or other beings are around you because of the micro-noises you’re receiving.
And now to the crux of Mr. Treasure’s passion: he claims that we are losing our listening. Why? First, because we have invented ways to record sound and video and words. Second, because the world is very noisy. It becomes hard to listen. Perhaps that’s why many people use headphones so that they can transform big, noisy spaces into small little sounds in their ears. We’ve also become impatient. We don’t want to listen for long periods of time, we want sound bites. Headlines therefore have to scream at us, just to get our attention. It’s political season. You know what I mean.
And why do you think commercials turn up the volume?
Mr. Treasure goes on to say that listening is our access to understanding. Conscious listening creates understanding. A world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed.
So He shares five simple exercises–tools to take away with you, to improve your own conscious listening.
Silence: Silence of 3 minutes a day helps reset our ears to quiet so that we can listen well.
The Mixer: Even in a noisy environment, try to listen to as many individual channels as you can hear and differentiate. It can be in a crowded city intersection, at the workplace, at school, or even in a beautiful, natural place as well, like a park. How many birds do you hear? Where are they? Is their flowing water? So the leaves make sounds in the wind? This improves the quality of your listening.
Savouring: This is about enjoying the most mundane sounds. For instance, the tumble dryer of a washing machine. We can enjoy any sound as long as we listen.
Listening positions: This is the most important one. Moving your listening position to what’s appropriate – active/passive or critical/sympathetic. This helps become conscious of barriers/filters to listening and play around with them.
RASA: It’s a Sanskrit word for juice or essence and the acronym stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask. It recaps the process of active listening.
In the conclusion of his Ted Talk, Mr. Treasure says this:
Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully — connected in space and in time to the physical world around us, connected in understanding to each other, not to mention spiritually connected, because every spiritual path I know of has listening and contemplation at its heart.
This is certainly true of early Christianity—though I would argue that modern-day Christianity [and especially Western Christianity] completely undervalues listening. Just consider how much Christian sects and denominations yell back and forth at each other but rarely listen? Just think about how many of us who identify as progressive Christians have to explain ourselves again and again, saying: “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I’m not like that or I don’t believe that or I don’t dehumanize certain types of people.” It seems that a lot of the time, religious people are not listening.
We often do not listen.
And this is indeed the message of this short snippet from a John story, in which Jesus is pretty blunt about the need for listening. The story begins by saying that it is the “festival of dedication” which refers to the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. In Greek, the Hebrew word is translated to be renewal. Hanukkah is the festival which celebrates the reconsecration of the Jerusalem Temple after the victory of Judas Maccabeus. John’s Gospel includes these references from time to time due to the audience reading the story. It was important to help non-Jewish readers understand a bit of the history and context of Jesus’ ministry.
It’s winter—you can feel the chill in the story. As Jesus of Nazareth strolls around the portico of Solomon, the Judeans [the Jerusalem-area social and religious aristocracy] surround him and pester him. They are scared of Jesus, because they had heard whispers of him being the promised Messiah, even though Jesus himself had never made such a claim. If Jesus were indeed the Messiah, the religious elites would be in trouble. So they were nagging Jesus until he said something. If he claimed to be the Messiah, he could be stoned. If he denied it, they could go back to the other elites and say See, we told you so.
Jesus’ response is typical. He doesn’t call himself the Messiah. Instead, he makes it about trust. The phrase here shouldn’t be I told you and you did not believe but instead I told you and you did not trust. They didn’t trust in the work that Jesus did. The healings. The teachings. The gathering of so-called sheep who were marginalized and left on the outside of society. The religious authorities are not the sheep. They are more like the thieves that come to separate and destroy.
And they don’t listen.
On the other hand, those who were often considered unclean and unworthy are sheep, and they do listen. They hear the loving voice. And they are known. They follow the merciful path. And life is theirs to embrace.
So here it is—we should listen, but not to all the noise, all the conventional sounds of society, and certainly not to the voices that seek to destroy, hurt, or separate.
Instead, we should listen to the voice that says:
I am not the things my family did.
I am not the voices in my head that tell me I’m worthless.
I’m not the mistakes that I have made or any of the things that have caused me pain.
I am not the color of my eyes or the skin on the outside.
I am not an age, a race, a nationality, a religion, or an academic level.
I am divinity defined.
I am the God on the inside.
I am connected to others because I listen to them and accept them.
I am light.
Will you take just a few moments each day and during the week to listen to that voice? Will you connect with me, connect with each other? Will you teach children how to listen and will we teach listening in our schools, workplaces, places of worship, and homes? Listening is a powerful thing. It can transform the world to a listening world — a world of connection, a world of understanding and a world of peace. Will you listen?
 Excerpts from India Arie’s song I Am Light.