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Why The World Needs More Than 'Active' Listening

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Thursday, february 14, 2019

by Mubeena, Founder at

Let’s explore what the ‘active’ means in active listening. Does it really help change the world, or does it contribute to its dark side? You decide.

You may have heard the term ‘Active Listening’ before. The term is often used in corporate training settings concerning communication with your target audience, customer, stakeholder or colleague. But my fundamental question is this. Why does the word ‘active’ have to precede ‘listening’?

According to the definition of Active Listening on, the act involves mindfulness, comprehension, attentiveness and feedback. On the surface, each of these skills is about sitting back and absorbing another person’s verbal expressions. However, they are duly reserved for that moment only.

It is ironic that in practical terms, the ‘Active’ part of listening mostly concerns proving that you were indeed listening. And so you must provide feedback by making noises or restating what you have understood. I am all for staying in the moment and comprehending what someone is saying to you. But after that, most people can’t wait to pounce back with a reply. Their opinion, expertise or belief must have its day in the sun.

I call this the ‘must reply’ syndrome. As a society, we suffer from it daily without thinking twice about how it is shapes our world. We refuse to engage unless someone else pays attention to our narrative in return. This has become our standard of what is fair. 

I believe the ‘must reply’ syndrome is one of the biggest contributors to the dark side of our world. It is the basis of all violence, all worthlessness, all subjugation, all abuse, all atrocity, all hate, and all suffering.

As Homo Sapiens, we have survived by killing other beings perceived to be threatening, different or foreign. The fact is, we are not in survival mode anymore and have no reason to use tactics to kill the ‘other’. But we still do so everyday, because we make it our mission to reply to whatever seems to disrupt our way of being, thinking and doing.

The world can change faster and for the better when humanity stops replying in order to ‘prove our point’ which serves to feed our egos, our pockets, our false sense of security and whatever else is a prehistoric threat to our so-called survival.

If we work together to get rid of the ‘must reply’ syndrome, we would not need the ‘Active’ part of Listening. And our world would have much less – 

Less Violence

I remember being struck with Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’. As a non-American, the idea of gun violence by the hands of children in schools remains alien to me. Although I am not a stranger to physical violence, the film taught me about using listening as a tool to prevent such acts. Marilyn Manson, the death metal artist who was named as a possible cause for the Columbine massacre, was asked what he would have said to the students who chose to kill that day, who regularly listened to his music. His reply was a simple “I wouldn’t say anything. I would just listen.” What he meant was beyond the mere sitting down and letting those troubled young men speak. I believe he meant something deeper by realizing that the tragedy reflected the subconscious or collective troubles of youth everywhere.

Less Abuse

And I’m not talking of only the physical kind. Sexual, mental, emotional and verbal abuse is rampant to such an extent that the world has grown immune and numb to its devastating effects. We have come to readily accept that these ills come with the territory of life and this I believe is a form of self-abuse in itself. In my practice as a professional listener, I have heard countless stories of abuse and how people wished someone had listened with the pure intent of believing them, no matter how off-the-wall an incident was, or who their offender was. The key here is to listen without reaction, and with plain pure belief. If you show surprise, disgust, or even pity, you have at once removed the other party from the realm of still having a place in the world. It is a question of fostering a culture of believing so that protection is imminent, natural and deserving.

Less Hate

Hate manifests as racism, sexism, and many other isms of late. Hate is a product of ignorance and stereotypical perceptions that are easy to hold on to and last for the long run. Our concept of hating others is a rudimentary form of self-preservation, as if we still live in the wild with predators amongst us. Listening to those who are different not only enriches the human experience but also softens the part of us that wants to hate for an illusory sense of security. Again, when I mean “listen” I mean really getting into someone else’s skin. It is not about having a conversation for the moment and replying with ‘your side’ of it. Hate runs deep and it takes unconditional forgiveness towards yourself and others to undo it. Once we understand that all people hold worth and have something amazing to offer the world, listening to others will be a joyous experience. Find out what that feels like, starting now.

Less Heartbreak

Struggling with relationships? We have all been there and you are not alone. Give out love for the sake of it. Love anyway. Compassion is the lifeline of human connection, and forgiveness the bridge. People break our hearts based on what they know at the time, and if we are open to listen to our past lovers’ heart of hearts, it gives our pain meaning. The anger, frustration, hurt and resentment that accompany heartbreak are vehicles to get us to another place of understanding. The growth and renewal from a heartbreak has a value that reveals itself only after you authentically listen to the purpose of the past relationship – a karmic debt, a spiritual lesson, a new standard to be set for yourself, an awareness of your eternal worth. Without this, heartbreak will repeat itself until a time when you are ready to listen.

Less Deception

When someone lies to you, understand that it is a form of masking his or her real self. Make a habit of accepting them and their lies. This sounds counterintuitive (like a lot of what I say), but if you can get to a place of letting go of wanting others to be answerable to you, honesty is what you will attract consistently. Nobody is answerable to you. It is their will to share what they feel invited to. When we know of deception from the other person, your best response is ramping up your awareness about their disconnection and accepting it without the intention to change them. People who experience your response will either come clean or will find another to deceive. The beauty of this response is in its non-judgment. When you forego the common label of deception as inherently evil, that’s when you are really listening to another person.

Summary of Article

The Big Ideas

01. no ‘active’ listening

The ‘Active’ in active listening is unnatural and unnecessary. The act of listening is a proactive deed in itself, and ‘active’ implies the need to justify that you were listening by restating the obvious, followed by replying.

02. the ‘must reply’ syndrome

We consider replying, answering and explaining to be the fair thing to do. But it is the basis for all the violence, hate, abuse, heartbreak and deception. We react with opinion and oppression too soon.

03. collective subconscious

When I speak about listening, it is beyond comprehending someone in the moment. It is about raising awareness within yourself about what it reflects about our society, and what it means for humanity.

final thought

Listen with a clear intention, with a will to believe, with the faith that we are all one manifested as different expressions of the same source. Our planet thanks you for going beyond the ‘active’ in listening because true listening is a proactive exercise in itself. I invite you to change the world around you by listening to one person at a time, get to know their story, their reason for being and offer them time and space to expand their mind, heart and soul. We are all connected, so don’t separate yourself by telling them what they are doing wrong, what they ought to be thinking or what they should be feeling.

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Mubeena is the Founder of Listen Truly, helping adults get the clarity and relief they deserve without psychotherapy. She started working as a professional listener out of her need for spiritual growth and her desire to practice non-judgment. If you would like to learn more, sign up for a free orientation session.

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