Communication is a mutual act; it takes two to communicate, one to speak and the other to listen. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “the greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought and attended to my answer”.
Since we spend a large part of our lives talking to people, mindful awareness of speaking and listening provides a wonderful opportunity to open the senses, heart, and mind to receive the moment more fully.
The following are some important guidelines:
- Listen to others with appreciation for the gift of what is being communicated.
- When participating in conversation, rest quietly and receptively in open awareness. If I am not present with me, I cannot be present with others.
- Listen to emotion, facial expression, and tone of voice as well as meaning. Listen to the silences between words or between speakers. You are listening to a fellow human being. Listen with kindness. Let the words, the stories, touch a compassionate heart.
It was several years ago when I first heard about a new smart phone app which touted its ability to listen to and decipher the complexity of baby sounds to help the new mother discern whether the baby was hungry, wet or tired. As a relational therapist, I was appalled by the potential significance of such substitutions for natural human empathy. Woefully few parents are relationally adequate as it is. A poor omen for a society which already seems so dysfunctional and disordered.
I thought of this in the context of the chillingly frequent scene of families sitting silent around a restaurant table, each person individually absorbed with their own phone. Another observation that woke me up was this: A patient told me about a painful incident with his son, in which another 11 year old boy came to visit and spent the entire three hours of their “playdate” engaged with solo video games on his device. Only one or two sentences were spoken between the boys in the entire afternoon, and my patient’s son reacted by becoming quite despondent. Fortunately for him, his father— an extremely relational and psychologically minded man — was able to help his son recognize his feelings and put them into words, and the incident became a wonderful (and intimate) learning moment between father and son.
And now enter “SNOO”, the smart bassinet from a company called Happy Baby, which for $1200 will swaddle, rock, vibrate, and soothe your baby with white noise while you sleep. Described by its creator as a “4th trimester”, SNOO promises to “hear your baby’s cries and automatically respond with 5 levels of gradually stronger white noise and motion to find the best level to soothe fussing”.
Undoubtedly a dream come true for a sleep deprived young mother. But what, I wonder, will be the psychological consequences? Will the SNOO’d baby be exceptionally well-regulated and emotionally balanced? Autistic for lack of human connection during basic distress? Or maybe both??
We can abstract this question to the future of Relationships in the era of Artificial Intelligence. In 2013, the futuristic fantasy film “Her” envisioned one possibility. It told the story of a man who became enthralled by—
or fell in love with— his operating system, an intuitive entity in its own right whose bright voice and playful personality enabled him to form a romantic attachment to “her”.
Fast forward to 2018: A recent television documentary aired footage of young Chinese men and women who related to Siri (or her Chinese equivalent) as a best friend.
What do YOU think?