(I wrote this piece last week and it was published in The Evening Echo on 7 July 2017. No online link available directly to paper’s website)
What is the real difference between hearing and listening? While slouching in Maths class at St Aidan’s Community College, Dublin Hill, I heard what my teacher was babbling on about whilst I daydreamed about a plethora of my teenage concerns. Hence the multitude of grade E’s in trigonometry and calculus that were splattered across my report cards. I never actually listened or paid attention to what she was trying to teach me. So, let’s say that hearing is the ability to perceive sound.
In my work as a freelance writer, I interview many people from all walks of life. People who work within disadvantaged communities, parents to sick children, millennials, dog-owners, pensioners – you name them, I’ll listen to them. There seems to be a message that resonates within most people’s dialogue.
“Our voices are not heard”.
We only have to think about some of the recent news headlines to demonstrate that the ordinary stakeholders in our societies are deemed to be voiceless;
- a pregnant child sectioned under the Mental Health Act to stop her travelling for an abortion; the people killed by fire in the Grenfell Tower block;
- the thousands who marched to the gates of the Dail with Vera Twomey;
- those who are campaigning for a 24 hour catherisation lab for University Hospital Waterford who held a vigil for Tom Power who died tragically en-route from University Hospital Waterford to Cork University Hospital to have stents inserted on a Sunday because the facility in Waterford is closed on weekends.
It is beyond frustrating when we are not listened to, when the messages that we wish to convey are not being adequately received. But how are we supposed to place our faith in the structures that govern and support us when we believe that our voices are not even heard, never mind listened to?
With the advent of social media, our collaborative voices should harness more strength. Nowadays, we have greater access to information and more online platforms from which to air our opinions and grievances. In theory, the ‘power’ should be held to a greater extent by the people because the information playing field is becoming increasingly levelled. In reality, this is not the case. We can speak with dignity, protest peacefully, ring into morning radio shows, file letters with newspaper editors, post vlogs online, cry, scream, roar at the top of our lungs. Yet, a lot of people still feel that the powers-that-be are not fully engaged with the public or cognisant of the real issues that affect people in their day to day lives.
I despair when I hear this type of standard response, “We hear what people are saying”. Hearing is not enough. Standard responses to posed questions are not enough. Why only hear when you can listen? There are so many types of listening; comprehensive listening, evaluative listening, appreciative listening, sympathetic listening, empathetic listening, the listening list goes on. Why not multi task and combine a formula of listening types to become a Ninja listener? Engage in meaningful, practical dialogue that could lead to sound solutions for and with the true stakeholders of this country – the people.
Take off your ties, fancy shoes, suit jackets (except for you Mick Wallace, you might want to put a jumper on), and get out from behind your desks and into the real world. Quit the back slapping followed by squabbling over who is or isn’t going to stand for morning prayers, roll up your sleeves and prioritise your workload. Hold both yourself and your peers to account.
I beseech our public representatives and elected TD’s to hold the citizens of this country in higher regard. Yours is a role of privilege, not power. It is a privilege to serve your constituents, to work for the people in the communities that you represent. By placing a tick next to your name at the ballot box, the electorate entrusted their voices to you. It is your duty to represent and actively listen to your employer – the citizens of this country. Common sense dictates that if you ignore your boss too many times, chances are you’ll eventually get fired.
But don’t listen to me. I’m only one person with one voice. A mere blip in the greater din. According to data analysed by Michael Gallagher* from Trinity College Dublin, in 2016, 3,305,110 people were registered to vote in the Republic of Ireland. 64.53% of the electorate turned up to vote in the 2016 election. That’s 2,132,895 people. There are currently 158 seats in Dail Eireann. They need us, the people, so they can keep their jobs.
I admit, my maths is crude and I have divulged that sums are not my strong point. I am also aware that there are more factors to consider but my word count won’t allow it.
In short, what I want to say via this article is this. You have a voice. Make them listen.