19 Not knowing how to listen, neither can they speak
This fragment must be a warning to any writer or speaker. Listening is the essential skill without which speech cannot connect with reality – the reality of the external world or the internal reality of another person. Although we can’t be sure of the original context, other fragments show us that Heraclitus was insistent that we should pay attention to what is really there in front of our eyes (and ears), and is quite uncomplimentary about the ways in which most people don’t do so.
The pandemic has had radical effects on all of us, in very different ways. Some have found themselves suddenly out of work, whether temporarily or indefinitely, while others have been hectically busy. But whether with more time on our hands or less, I think many of us have found it difficult to be still – to be receptive enough to really listen. I have certainly found it hard enough work listening to myself. As things to do flit across my mind, it’s hard to be aware of what’s going on in myself, let alone anyone else or the world of which I’m part. It’s much easier to be still inside when the world around is calm and secure; and that has not been the experience for any of us.
Rediscovering listening can happen through many routes. It can be mediated by time in an external environment in which we can slow down, or through deep conversation with a friend, or by being still within ourselves in meditation or prayer. The important thing is to find ways of recovering or holding on to that capacity to listen. Only as those who have some idea of what is going on within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and in our external world, can we begin to help each other live well. Only as those who can listen are we given words to speak.
Fragments on Fragments are written by the Right Reverend Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon in the Church of England. He introduces the whole series here. Alongside the words is an image by Alison Clark of a broken sand dollar, gilded in reference to the Japanese practice of kintsugi: you can find more of her work here.