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Listening with Your Eyes

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I was mesmerized. I involuntarily inched closer. Their conversation was magnetic and compelling……

I stood at the busy bus stage in downtown Nairobi popularly known as Ambassador waiting for my friend Sam who’d told me he was running late. I stood there looking at Kenyans rushing past, in a hurry to get to different places. All of them with determined expressions, focused on their destinations, oblivious of anything else but their need for speed. On my left were a group of deaf people congregated around a deaf street sweet vendor animatedly talking. I was so drawn to their conversation and got so pulled into their world that I abandoned all etiquette protocol and openly stared.

There were four guys including the ‘sweets’ man and one lady. And although I could not for the life of me make out what they were saying, for I know not sign language and I have no lip reading skills, they seemed to be arguing quite some. Their body language was fiery. Their facial expressions, their arms, their gestures, their movement and their use of standing space was all so full of electric charge. I was mesmerized. I involuntarily inched closer. Their conversation was magnetic and compelling in its form.

Now in hindsight I wonder why? Did I think I’d ‘hear’ them better if I got closer? There was no sound!

I also wondered what was drawing me to them. There was nothing spectacularly odd or different about this ordinary group of Kenyans having a street conversation, apart from of course their mode of communication. These people were intently listening with their eyes. I loved it. I wished I could have been part of it, and I was so desperate to know what they were saying. This I thought to myself is how conversations need to be had.

And now the challenge throws itself up and I look at myself and the people around me and ask – “And why not?!” Why can’t we have conversations like these, where we speak with our bodies and listen with our eyes? The biggest factor that causes family feuds and discord whether between spouses, with children or siblings, runs rings around communication. And often these manifest as: lack of communication; miscommunication; misunderstood communication; withheld communication; delayed communication; or outright misleading and destructive communication.
What would it take for us to effectively communicate, and by this I mean speak and listen, sincerely and give our communication engagements our all? What if we make a deliberate effort to make every conversation electric in its output be it a seriously sober conversation or a light and happy one? Listening contributes 100% to wonderful conversations. It honours the person speaking and wholly empowers them to speak sincerely.

What if we were all to listen with our eyes the way deaf people do? It would mean than conversations would be rife with people listening and observing the nonverbal behavior of the people speaking to them as they talk and listen. What beautiful family relationships would be created out of these listening acts? Imagine happy children whose parents really listen to them and hear even their unspoken worries from childhood right through to being young adults. Imagine intimate spouses who really listen to each other and who have an unspoken chord. Imagine siblings that make a great family team by listening to the other’s conversations and providing peer counsel that a parent never could. Just imagine……………..

And as we let our imaginations run away with us, I put out a dare that in the spirit and footsteps of the inspiring deaf group at Ambassador Bus Stage, and to radically transform communication going forwards, that we dramatically alter our normal communication and begin to listen with our eyes.

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