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Are we having a dialogue or just hearing our echo?

Andreas Weber on the importance of listening

»Me, me, me!« - In today's world, we often revolve around ourselves. If biologist and author Andreas Weber has his way, this egocentric worldview is a major cause of current ecological and social problems.

[This text has been translated electronically.] Setting out as a festival towards a more sustainable future only works on one premise: listening. This is where Andreas Weber puts his finger in the wound. Because in his opinion, that's exactly what we humans have forgotten. For him, however, the perception of the other person only begins with listening. In listening lies the core of sustainable and solidary action and in understanding finally the feeling of belonging - which is a foundation of our civilization. In his text below, Weber makes clear that behind listening there is also the fundamental principle of reciprocity: »I am because you are«.


Andreas Weber - Listening


There is a central commandment in many cultures that do not, like ours, think of the world as a collection of things. The commandment is to speak softly when we are not alone. In the forest, by the river, under the mountain that was there before I was there, the commandment is to avoid rapid speech. The forest hears what I say. The mountain listens.


This consideration irritates us. A mountain - what is it but a heap of matter? It may be that we humans have invented stories about this mountain over time, of mythical creatures, saints and heroes. But these stories, we think, say nothing of the mountain, only of us. Things are silent. What we hear is a monologue of culture. Why should we listen to the rock? There is nothing to experience.


In fact, if we listen away, we do not experience what is most important. We remain deaf to the fact that everything in this world is mutual. It is the principle of ecological existence. Only because others exist can the individual be. Only because plants exhale oxygen can I inhale it. Only because bumblebees pollinate them, flowers bloom. Only because clouds form on the mountain does it rain.


The »Shhh!« of primitive people towards trees, water and mountains is an ecological insight. It is on the other beings that man, their youngest sibling, depends to thrive. Such cultures take into account the fundamental principle of reciprocity. »Listen!« it says. »Give the others space, for only then will you receive yours.«

Those who do not listen negate their counterparts. The proverbial »You never listen to me!« actually means: you don't perceive me, not as I am. He who does not listen denies reciprocity. He abuses the other as a stage.


Our civilization has made this abuse its dogma. Our world principle is the monologue. We believe that everything good comes from the strongest setting the tone. The strongest is not listening right now. He shouts others down - or babbles to them. Our commandment is not to listen, but to be narcissistic - the opposite of listening.


We choose people who make decisions about us based on how skillfully they run their mouths over others, that is, how little they listen. To set the tone among elites, selfishness pays off. Not listening is the trump card.


But narcissism is not just selfishness. Narcissism is a mortal ecological sin. It destroys the mutuality that makes life possible. The victory of narcissism began the moment our culture denied the world its voice, when we declared that everything but us was just dead things.

The most important ethos of indigenous cultures is not to tolerate narcissism. That is why they treat other beings with reverence as persons. That's why they usually don't have a »chief« but an elected council of elders. Narcissism disrupts ecosystems, poisons relationships - and it is inherently undemocratic.


The principle of ancient cultures is not, like ours, »I am because I won against you.« But rather, »I am because you are.« It is a precept we should adopt with all haste. Only those who listen will keep the world fruitful, for now and for all time.


This text was written as part of »Listening #4, Climate change & democracy, from complexity to action« by Sasha Waltz & Guests | Education & Community 2019.

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