So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it. – Jiddu Krishnamurti
Two days ago, on the 6th of August 2020, I finished the first draft of my first book project.
Yesterday, I tried to reflect on the experience, thinking about what went well, what didn’t and what I would do differently.
And today I wondered… what should I work on next?
The art of listening
As I looked through my files I found a folder of slips that I had been collecting around the idea of being a better listener.
The art of listening seems to me to be one of the most important skills that we could learn or teach our children.
Being able to understand and empathize with others will help you become more successful at whatever you do.
But are you sure you even know what the word empathy means?
I was confused about it for a while.
Many people think that empathy is the ability to feel what other people feel – but it’s not – that’s more akin to sympathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else sees and thinks and feels about their world.
You don’t need to agree with people to have empathy with them.
You gain empathy through listening and asking questions and reflecting on what you’ve heard.
Human beings are the only creatures we know of with this ability, and we use it in a variety of ways and in a variety of fields.
For this project I plan to draw on fields including biology, history, journalism, teaching, child-rearing, law, psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, religion, negotiation, sales, philosophy, anthropology, language, culture, engineering, design thinking and systems thinking – and any others that may be helpful in learning how to listen better.
Planning another book
I felt like I raced through my first attempt at writing a book, going over things quickly and talking about things rather than talking through them.
I think this will show up in the edit.
I think I will come across passages where I talk about something without having introduced or explained it first.
I tried to link the various posts as I went along, referring to the previous one and talking about what came next, a technique I learned from a YouTube video series, but I’m not sure it was the right approach to take.
Instead, I think I might try and think in terms of “nuggets” or “information blocks” – each post containing a self-contained class of ideas and methods that you can call on when you want and combine them in an order that works.
In case you missed it, that’s an object oriented metaphor from programming, which could be a novel way to look at structuring a book – something else to explore later perhaps.
When the individual classes/nuggets/blocks are done I can link them together following the structure of the book and add any linking information needed to bind it all together.
The act of rushing through the writing, trying to get it all down in one sitting has also led to longer posts – posts that are harder to read and probably will be harder to edit.
I feel like it’s probably worth trying to cover less but go deeper with each post – because what I want from each post is for it to be useful for someone reading it in its own right – rather than having you go away and read ten more to figure out what it’s talking about.
And that’s going to take some practise and perhaps more planning up front to distil the essence of the idea into what I need to cover.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve given myself a million words to get better at this writing thing, and so far I’m on 866,659 words, so there’s still 150,000 or so of practise time left – about a year’s worth of writing.
The other thing I’d like to do with this project is get better at managing the research around the book – becoming more intentional about the sources I use and how I use the ideas that are in them.
This relates to the epistemology – the means to gain knowledge that are used here.
I started life being trained to see the world as an engineer – full of problems to be solved.
I have since learned to see the world as complicated and confusing, but one where we can make a difference if we take the time to understand one another.
Logic alone will not help us do this, maths won’t, technology won’t.
If we want to address the little and big problems in our lives – from the kinds of relationships we have with our spouses and children to the challenges of climate change – we will have to do that by understanding other people better.
And that starts with being able to listen, really really listen.
So, the working title of this book is “Listen: the art of understanding others” and over the next sixty to eighty days I’ll be working through the first draft in these posts.