A mother takes her four-year-old to the pediatrician reporting she’s worried about the girl’s hearing. The doctor runs through a battery of tests, checks in the girl’s ears to be sure everything looks good, and makes notes in the child’s folder. Then, she takes the mother by the arm. They move together to the far end of the room, behind the girl. The doctor whispers in a low voice to the concerned parent: “Everything looks fine. But, she’s been through a lot of tests today. You might want to take her for ice cream after this, as a reward. “ The daughter jerks her head around, huge grin on her face, “Oh, please, Mommy! I love ice cream!” The doctor, now speaking at a regular volume, reports, “As I said, I don’t think there’s any problem with her hearing, but she may not always choose to listen.”
Hearing is something most everyone does without even trying. It is a physiological response to sound waves moving through the air at up to 760 miles per hour. First, we receive the sound in our ears. The wave of sound causes our eardrums to vibrate, which engages our brain to begin processing. The sound is then transformed into nerve impulses so that we can perceive it in our brains.
Hearing has kept our species alive for centuries. When you are asleep but wake in a panic having heard a noise downstairs, an age-old self- preservation response is kicking in. Hearing is unintentional, whereas listening (by contrast) requires you to pay conscious attention. Our bodies hear, but we need to employ intentional effort to actually listen.
Listening is one of the first skills infants gain, using it to acquire language and learn to communicate with their parents. Bommelje (2011) suggests listening is the activity we do most in life, second only to breathing. Nevertheless, the skill is seldom taught.