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.
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.