The Difference Between Listening & Hearing

Have you ever wondered why we say, “I like listening to music” but rarely “I like hearing music”?

If you look up the meaning of hearing, it is defined as the process, function or power to perceive sound. Hearing means being aware of sound; a natural stimulus or response by people. This allows us to pay attention and to wholly comprehend the message that is being conveyed is listening. Many of us however, fail to differentiate the former and the latter.

While it may appear as an act that requires little thought, I believe that listening is something that should not be taken for granted. The general concept or idea when we enjoy music is that we listen to it; to understand the meaning behind the song. Listening, though, is not necessarily confined to music solely; it applies to people as well.

When was the last time you listened to your mother advising you to be safe on the road? When was it that you listened to your teacher telling you to read the question thoroughly before answering it? When did you last listen to that cashier wishing you to have a good day? You heard those phrases. But, have you actually listened to them?

Why is it so important to listen? How does it affect our lives by doing so? We hear so many stories, incidents and events that cause drastic changes in the lives of others. What if we paused for a moment and listened? Perhaps there can be previous situations or instances in the past where the mere act of listening could have caused a considerable reduction in hassle. 

It is important to pay attention and listen to our parents although we may occasionally perceive it as redundant. Your teachers’ advice meanwhile, can more often than not be pearls of wisdom if you listen carefully. If you listen to your friends’ lamentations, you will understand that they are going through a rough patch. Listening does not mean you have to act upon those situations or problems. Sometimes, just listening will do. The mere action of providing an ear and a shoulder for someone to lean on and who understands them will suffice in most situations. 

Over the course of this pandemic, all of us have experienced varying degrees of emotions in such extenuating circumstances. Some may be terrifying or horrible; some eye-opening and shocking. During these times, the soft, desperate voices for help have been swallowed whole by the unnecessarily booming, loud voices of the self-centered. So, please listen. Pause for a moment. Listen to those voices closest to you which matter.

Not listening also means that more often than not, you may inadvertently end up omitting whatever that is being said by the other party. For example, what happens if you do not practice listening when you get into a rash argument with your mother and vice versa? Well, sparks fly and all you can see is red with both parties unwilling to compromise. You can hear her nagging and the sound drives you crazy to no end. This argument causes you and your mother to give one another the cold shoulder for days. What if either of you had actually listened to what the other had to say? The aforementioned icy experience would most likely not occur, and relationships would not be strained in the process.

Listening, while a simple act, creates a huge difference in remedying almost every situation that went wrong in the first place. It does not necessarily apply to the above situation either. It could be applied to almost anything, anytime and anywhere. I believe that many mishaps or incidents can be prevented just by paying attention, listening and acknowledging the other party.

We say, “I like listening to music” and not “I like hearing music” because the fundamental understanding is that we listen to music to comprehend the message and the meaning of it. Stop and pause for a second. Turn around and simply listen. Acknowledge the people around you and try your best to understand what he or she is trying to say. Listen to those emotions that are punctuated behind each word. Even silence is a form of sound. Merely hearing is not sufficient, try listening. It might just give you a world of new perspectives. 

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

By Poorani Rajaretnam

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