Listening as the radical, intransitive act

Listening When I first started my training and development with Landmark Worldwide, I was entranced by the way language was used in the programs I attended, and in the conversations about the programs.

The language was highly rigorous, and featured unusual phrasing and an absence of modifiers such as adjectives, adverbs and superlatives.

I was getting all these breakthroughs in my personal life and relationships, and then there was this wonderful bonus: the language. For a language nut like me,

and someone with a grounding in the linguistic philosophy of 20th century Europe and its precursors in phenomenology and ontology, it was thrilling to encounter language being used in this way in an everyday setting.

There was one usage that particularly startled me.

People kept dropping the preposition when using the verb “listen”. They would say things like, “I listen Mary as powerful” or “John listens himself small”, instead of “I listen to Mary as powerful” or “John listens to himself as small”.

My first thought was that it must be one of those odd American adaptations of the English language. Like “John wrote Ann” or “I knit a pair of socks”, instead of “John wrote to Ann” or “I knitted a pair of socks”, as it would be in other English-speaking countries.

My second thought was that it must be something specific and intentional because listening was central to what I was learning in my training and development. So I resolved “to be in the enquiry” (an example of the language I’m speaking of) and see what arose.

Months went past, years went past, and my understanding deepened. One day, I realised the penny had dropped. I understood what people were doing when using “listen” as an intransitive verb.

An intransitive verb is a verb which doesn’t take an object, whereas a transitive verb does take an object (ie, the action represented by the verb is done to an object). Normally, “listen” is a transitive verb because we listen to someone or something. In the Landmark setting, “listen” was being used as an intransitive verb because the preposition “to” was missing.

When making a statement such as “John listens himself small” or “John listens himself as small”, the speaker is demonstrating or performing that who John is – for himself, and for the speaker (ie, the world) – is created by the act of listening itself. It’s saying that John doesn’t exist as an object, out there, separate from the listening of him.

Radical, huh?

If John listens himself as small, who John is for himself is small. If John listens himself as powerful, who John is for himself is powerful. Similarly, if I, as the speaker of the observation about John, listen John as one who listens himself small, who John is for me is one who listens himself small.

These examples in regular usage also demonstrate the point. Say I say “Ann is smart”, what I’m actually saying is “I listen Ann as smart”. Meanwhile, when Ann says of herself, “I am not good with finances”, what she’s actually saying is “I listen myself as being not good with finances”.

What this ostensibly minor quirk of language usage was showing me was the nature of reality. There is nothing – no-thing, no object – out there to which a transitive verb could apply. To say it another way, there is no person or thing out there separate from my listening of that person or thing.

We bring the world into being by listening it.



16 thoughts on “Listening as the radical, intransitive act

  1. Interesting, that language, embellished with too many words, loses it’s power, in other words, less is more, but getting the less right is vital to understanding. To be an active listener, perhaps we become more telepathic and language may well be unnecessary.
    I probably could have said all of this in one sentence, but it was good to listen myself understanding.
    Thank you for this post, I heard you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Are you using “listening” here to mean the same thing as “being aware of” or “understanding?” Using the word “listening” in this way seems confusing (although you did a fine job explaining it. And maybe it is meant to shake us up and make us look close at both how we use language for self talk and other talk, and how we think about ourselves and each other through the use of language.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Narelle. As I read this post I was thinking about the creation story and the creative power of the Word, “Let there be….” The Word, creation, life, existence were simultaneous. I see and hear that same idea in your post. The Word is (as you mentioned in a reply to a comment) creative and sometimes, sadly, destructive.

    Peace be with you,


    • And destruction is another creation. Hi Mike. Yes, this post can be read as the story of one woman’s growing understanding of Genesis and John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word …”, the act of creation, and its implications for my life.

      I was watching it in operation yesterday when here in the Australian media there was a lot of conversation about the impending execution by firing squad in Indonesia of two Australian citizens convicted of drug smuggling. In the comments sections were those listening them evil and those listening them deserving of mercy. As you say, the Word, creation, life, existence simultaneous (and in this example, it’s even more literal than usual). Would you say a prayer for them, Mike? Their names are Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Thank you for visiting. Always special to me. xx


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