I love Gordon’s quote in the film too about recording sound being just what he needs to do in order to listen better. What does listening mean to you? In this context?
It’s a great question. I think really for me listening is about being present. And there’s something about listening that is very special because with your eyes you have a certain angle that you can see. But your ears can hear not only behind you where your eyes can’t see but also miles and miles away. So in a quiet place being able to hear faint sounds that are happening ten, fifteen miles away from you, I think it kind of puts everything into perspective. And I think that we as humans have to walk a fine line—that we have obviously made a huge mark on the places that we live in. But at the same time we are very, very small. And I think maintaining that balance is what gives me hope in a way. That we can do all the things that we need to do to care for our planet and care for the people on the planet. So listening is a lot more than, for me, about hearing a beautiful bird even though I love listening to the birds. It’s this thing that really grounds me and reminds me what it means to be a human, to be a mammal on this planet.
I read a really fascinating book, I don’t know whether you have come across it, it’s called The Third Ear: On Listening to the World. One of the things that I found fascinating was it talked about how in cultures which focus on the ear rather than the eye as the predominant organ for gathering information about the world, those societies tend to be more peaceful and compassionate. And I find that quite fascinating because we’re a very visually oriented society. But the auditory is a very different way of apprehending the world isn’t it?
Absolutely. And I think also that listening is a physical act. If I told you to listen to something I’m asking you to do something physical with your body. But at the same time listening is also very metaphorical in my opinion, it’s that you can take those same ideas and apply them to your interpersonal relationships and apply them to just meeting people. Really listening means to be present. And I think that’s one of the most important things that we can try and do in the world is be present and be grounded in where we are.
Right. It’s like meditation isn’t it?
It has a lot of similar characteristics. In most religions, there are sects or people within that religion who are silent. Or spend their time listening and not speaking. We have these rituals that involve silence like when someone passes or when there’s a tragic event, we hold moments of silence. And there’s a reason for that. There’s a really great film as well revolving around this topic called In Pursuit of Silence which was put out the same year as Being Hear and it goes into the cultural significance of silence around the world. Not just in America but in Asia and in Africa and all these other places. And it’s really incredible because every culture does hold silence in a special place. Even if we don’t actively think about it in that way.
Yes. And we live in such a noisy society don’t we? You’re talking about listening at those metaphorical levels. But there’s noise at many different levels. In the visual and the information sense as well as the auditory sense. And it makes that kind of being present, that kind of attentive listening difficult to cultivate. Because it’s a society that’s constantly shouting for your attention. So much of modern living is about selective attention, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re talking about really.
Oh totally. You hit the nail right on the head. And I think that’s why protecting natural spaces and becoming a better listener is important. It’s because we are constantly bombarded with all this information, visually and auditorally, in our lives. We’re constantly being bombarded with all of these things. And when we can take moments away from that I think it’s very special. And I’m one of the people who, like, I love having a smart phone because all the answers to any of my questions is in my pocket. And I think that is an incredible privilege. But at the same time I think moderation is key. So when you’re constantly being bombarded by information and advertisements and all these things, to be able to take time to not have that and appreciate that for what it is and just be where you are and be who you are, those are the moments that I think are really most important.
I think having that presence of the ubiquitous device has made it more difficult for us to just be with ourselves. You see people standing in line at the supermarket and they can’t just be. They have to get their device out and do something.
Yeah. Or they can’t, like, talk to the person behind them.
Right, right. They’re not present in that immediate environment.
Right. I think we’ve lost some of that. It’s okay to talk to another human that you don’t know.