The Power of Communication in Learning

We humans have an incredible capacity to learn. More than the acquisition of skills, information, and knowledge, that capacity helps us mature and evolve — engaging our curious, creative minds, stretching our awareness, and deepening our understanding of the world and ourselves.

One of the most potent vehicles for learning is communication, facilitated for us humans through language. Words are the tools of our species, a product of our undeniable interconnection. Language has the power to clarify, unify, heal and encourage as well as to alienate, confuse, hurt, and demean. It can further learning and it can stop it in its tracks, stifling its development.

The challenges come when opinions differ, more so when they clash, and even more when emotions are triggered. Conflict erupts, stirring up anger and reactivity while at the same time offering us an even greater challenge — an opportunity to mature and evolve.

Our difficulty in meeting that challenge lies in our humanness. Raised in families whose imperfect methods of communication have been passed down through generations while being reinforced by cultural conditioning — the art of navigating conflict over highly charged emotional ground with clear, responsible maturity does not come easily. Our practiced ways of responding from our reactions are already in place.

We all know the pitfalls that send communication into a downward spiral: insults, name-calling, sarcasm, disparaging remarks, belittling, discounting, blaming, overpowering, overriding, attempting to control, squash, squelch, humiliate, or cut off. To name a few.

Fortunately, what enables us to get through conflict lies also in our humanness — our curious, creative minds, our need to understand, and our drive towards greater awareness. What empowers these aspects of our nature even more comes from our essential qualities of the heart— compassion, humility, heartfelt humor, respect, acceptance (opening our minds and hearts enough to embrace the paradoxes in life, others, and ourselves) and forgiveness.

In the process, our ability to communicate reaches new levels and language itself evolves. Returned to our incredible capacity to learn, grow, mature, and evolve, our awareness reaches new clarity, understanding reveals our interconnection and the world becomes a bigger place with more room for diversity and for enlightening, enlivening, inspiring, and fun conversation.

Anna Billings
July 2008

Views: 12

Tags: Language, communication, conflict, forgiveness, learning


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Comment by Connie Weber on July 27, 2008 at 8:51am
I've always thought that listening is a "subject" that can be taught in school. If it's taught in an overt manner, students make rapid progress, much more rapid than if it's just assumed it'll be picked up on the way. In class, I have the students practice being good and bad listeners by acting it out with body language. They have a ball with this. I love being the one to demonstrate poor "listening body language," turning it into a comedy act. Believe me it gets remembered and referred to often.
I created that lesson because sometimes when I ask students if they're listening to someone, they say they are, and in fact can recite what they heard. I'll then say that I asked because it didn't look like they were listening... and we talk about whether it makes a difference to be "looking like you're listening," beyond just "hearing." After the "teacher being bad by being a poor listener" lesson, we have some wonderful conversations about how listening "flows" and nonverbal signals create openings for more depth and connection. Truly, listening is an art--and it can be taught.
Comment by Anna Billings on July 25, 2008 at 11:39pm
Hi Mike,
Thanks so much for the quote by Henri Nouwen. Very timely as I was just talking with a friend who expressed her dismay at not being able to find something to say to a patient of hers who was suffering a huge loss. She told me that all she could do was sit beside the person, feeling compassion for the pain, but not knowing what to say. I told her not to underestimate the power of her compassionate presence. Then, tonight, I read this quote that you posted. I sent it to her right away. So perfect!
Comment by Mike on July 25, 2008 at 1:45pm
Thanks Anna.... very interested in deepening ways to listen to myself.....

I too have her book all underlined......... Where to look....what to listen to with-in is a great way of putting what i am interested in exploring. As she states.... i am trying to move beyond the more masculine way of "containing and managing emotions".

Greenspan talks about 3 stages of "flowing" with emotions:
I think/feel like i have done fairly well with attending---- still playing with Befriending....and the Surrendering thing has me stumped!!!

She describes it as... not like detachment in a conventional sense but as
"connected detachment"... staying connected to emotional energy mindfully.

"The detachment comes from being mindful....not disconnected".

Need to play with this one a bit?????

be well....
Comment by Anna Billings on July 25, 2008 at 12:59pm
Thanks, Mike. I recently read Miriam Greenspan's Healing Through the Dark Emotions and have underlined it throughout. Now going back to read my underlines. A magnificent and much needed piece of work.

Regarding listening to others and to oneself, I think the key here is what we call "presence." It's the state of being in which we are present, attentive, open (setting aside preconceived ideas, labels, assumptions), receptive, interested, not jumping to conclusions.

Listening to yourself can be trickier since we're such a complex mixture of thoughts, sensations, experiences, behaviors, talents, characteristics, personality. Where to look, what to listen to?

Miriam Greenspan gives some useful guidance in this, a kind of instruction manual on how to pay attention to emotions we tend to run from, how to stay present long enough to follow the thread to a deeper ground of being where we discover the wisdom that lies at the core. There we can also discover a more true and constant sense of self, less defined by our judgments and evaluations, more free, and infinitely more wise.
Comment by Mike on July 25, 2008 at 11:52am
Anna.... i like this one alot too:

"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate.
Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with
others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken.
But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most
is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it...
And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity
with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing
what to say but knowing they should be there, can bring new life to a dying heart."
- Henri Nouwen-
Comment by Mike on July 25, 2008 at 11:35am
Hi Anna.... hope this finds you well.....

Sorry can't find where i found the THICH NHAT HANH piece... i still need to get better at bookmarking the stuff that catches my eye... might even venture to play with the thing that Laura spoke about.

As far as personal wisdom... don't create much.... love to find other peoples and put it to use.....

I also agree.... listening is the key foundation of communication and it is not all that easy to do well.
To create a "space" to really listen to another ....requires the listener to set themselves aside.... to be truely there in the exchange.....

Seems to me that good listening is an act of generosity..... and it is extremly powerful and as you indicate ...... very rare!

Miriam Greenspan... who i really like alot..... says this about the Power of Listening:

"The power of listening is the Foundation of healing."

"Listening to another's pain is a primary form of nurturance, capable of healing even the most devastating of human afflictions, including the wounds and scars of violence, even the horrors of war and huge scale social trama."

" Without a listener, the healing process is aborted."

Now here is the catch that i certainly have run into listening to troubled kids for a number of decades...... ( again Miriam)

"Though all emotional healing requires it, listening to pain is difficult- and the greater the pain, the more difficult it is to listen to. The dark emotions are uncomfortable; they are also contagious. Their energies flow through and between and among us without regard to boundaries we erect to keep ourselves seperate. If we are unable to tolerate some discomfort, its hard to listen to dark feeling in ourselves or others."

She goes on to describe listening this way:

"One listens with the limbic system, the third ear of intuition, as much as with the cerebral cortex- emptying oneself to allow another's story to enter, opening to the energetic movement of emotion, empathically joining with someone else's experience.
.... by a kind of grace, good listening transforms suffering."

She goes on to say........
"Just as being well listened to helps people heal, listening to oneself is the secret of self-healing."

So.... how do you go about listening to yourself????

be well... mike
Comment by Anna Billings on July 23, 2008 at 4:14pm
Hi Mike,
One more thought — Concerning the Power of Listening, I would venture to say that listening is actually the most essential part of communication. It is what completes the cycle of communication rather than leaving it as a smoke signal hanging in the air. Many elements of listening get dropped out in everyday exchanges. Instead of attending to the speaker and what is being said, it's common practice for the one at the receiving end to put a large portion of attention on what they plan to say in response (or rebuttal), and to jump to the conclusion that they "already know" what the person is saying and therefore don't have to listen. Interruption, overreaction, and dismissal are a few ensuing pitfalls.

On the upside, when one truly listens, understanding can occur, and new possibilities open. Neuroscientists have discovered that new connections (synapses) are created when this true communication occurs. A larger, more clear and potent field of possibility is formed. A "consciousness," shared by those in the communication, grows. Evolution of the brain actually occurs!
Comment by Anna Billings on July 23, 2008 at 3:45pm
Thanks, David. This is a very intriguing thread of thought. Interesting to note how this false notion of a "forcer" is at play in humans today. It's connected to another false belief that we are alone in our struggles and "it's all up to me" to keep things going — a major source of mental, emotional, physical stress. To really get that we are interconnected, working and living together, and to trust momentum and the myriad other supportive forces available is to relieve a huge load behind our perpetual forcing, stressing, and sense of overload. And to alleviate the compulsion to do more, have and accomplish more may be as simple (and as challenging) as "being ourselves" more fully and trusting that who we are is also a contribution and in many ways is also "enough."
Comment by Anna Billings on July 23, 2008 at 3:34pm
Thanks, Mike. Much to ponder here. The voices you've described are those of enlightened leadership. It's what our world is in such dire need of today. Please tell me the source of this Thich Nhat Hanh quote. I would like to read the entire text — very interesting. Also, is all of what you wrote from him or is some of this from your own personal pool of wisdom? Couldn't quite tell where the quotation marks ended. Thanks so much for sharing this.
Comment by ddeubel on July 14, 2008 at 7:24pm
Yes Mike, we have to do things "better" not "more". I've always been true to one idea in my own life and that is the notion that the WHAT is never as important as the HOW. It is the quality and way things are done that effect reality and not just that a thing "IS". Koestler in his series of books on Science and thought (Act of Creation, Ghost in the Machine ...) points out that we view the world with a bias (or you might say "maya"). We need to see this and temper it. Our bias in the western world I believe, is to see things in number and quantity. We think quantity effects and outcome is always increased by quantity. This bias effects so much of every act we do, even communication.... Koestler compares it to the old notion prevailing until Newton, that motion was something done by a "forcer" always moving things; an arrow, the planets, the car. People believed that when an arrow "flew", it was constantly being pushed by some force. This effected the whole "thought" of anyone, in all areas. Newton simply wiped away that sky and replaced it with "momentum" and individual freedom and in some profound way, changed our mindset and ushered in the modern world we see.... But we still have work to do.

Sorry for the tangent but it is related :) Heraclitus probably described this better with his phrase - "latent structure rules obvious".


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