Open your ears! How listening is key to our lived experience
Updated: Mar 11
I'm aware this blog can be a little marketing-heavy at times, so today wanted to share something a little more thoughtful. In a year where we took little for granted, I'd like to give a particular shout out to sound and the incredible power it has to change our experience in the moment.
To think, as babies in the womb, we are aware of the sound of our mother's voice, of music, of environments, heartbeats and stress levels, is wonderful. We can hear before we are born and we were born to listen. The things we hear, and how we compute auditory stimulus all inform and shape our understanding of the world, of our safety, our situation and stability. Sound tells us who we are and how we are - an external barometer forecasting our internal state.
Opening your ears can also be a great way to manage that internal state.
For three reasons, I think listening has been particularly essential in the past year. All three of these factors have been solidly enabled by the growing diversity of podcast content available to us when we take a time-out from our sometimes (often) overfamiliar environments. And all three of them allow us to access a different version of our lived experience.
In recent times we find ourselves more sensitive to the movements, behaviour and considerations others make, as this impacts the personal space and safety of our families and ourselves as individuals. We are aware of the tensions where our boundaries overlap, we become irritable when our needs are compromised. When isolated, we can become overly-focussed on our own experience.
In listening to other people's stories and perspectives via the comfortable distance of a podcast player, we can choose when, how and how long for we choose to make alternative experiences the centre of attention. More importantly, in doing so we flex our muscle for compassion. The startling honesty and breadth of first-person narratives allow us to step into another's shoes momentarily, to sample the experiences of others, to share in their pain, joy, laughter and boredom.
Once we have stepped out of a story and back into our daily life, the references we have built return to us at relevant moments, perhaps causing us to view events around us in a different way - perhaps with more understanding or curiosity? Perhaps we notice things we didn't notice before? Stories plug so successfully into our memories because of the emotions they evoke. When we have walked in another's shoes, we cannot look dispassionately upon them.
What's more, when we hear someone we admire it can also help us model how to behave. For many, including myself, Katherine Ryan's regular, no-nonsense advice in Telling Everybody Everything has brought levity and a good old dose of 'calm down' during strange times.
Self-validation works both for podcast creators finding their voice and publishing it for the first time through amazingly simple tools, or through listening to programmes that allow you to hear similar viewpoints and feel less alone. The sharing of personal narratives and stories has been a remarkable source of comfort and connection for many during these times of retracted socialisation.
Finding your tribe via audio, and joining the conversation through the communities inspired can replicate the cohesion so many of us miss right now. If this interests you, listen out for our forthcoming episode of Life Solved,where University of Portsmouth Professor Lincoln Geraghty explains the importance of 'Fandom' in galvanising social change and connection.
An already explicit and active podcast conversation around mental health stepped up a level the past year, with more and more bespoke programmes being created to cater to, comfort and equip the many with tools to cope and manage change. From sleep tools to children's stories, conversations about anxiety, food, yoga and knitting - whatever your healthy is, there's a way to lean into these habits with your audio crutch.
Sometimes the power of listening is just in hearing the message that you're not all alone after all, and everyone else is going through this too.
3. SENSE OF A WIDER WORLD
In addition, our now very small social circles can create something of an echo chamber for our opinions and world-views, but podcasting allows us to test those views against other, different voices. Becoming lost in someone else's situation invariably also allows us to return to our own with a wider perspective and perhaps even gratitude.
Whether you want to hear little-told stories of individuals through history, listen to Gen Z's perspectives on issues such as racism, violence and pornography (Try You Don't Know Me), hear your favourite author nurture others through trauma, be party to awkward, tragic-comic conversations between celebrities deranged by lockdown, be shocked by horrible crime and murder tales, or be uplifted by a nature podcast about saving the world (WWF's optimistic and youthful Call of the Wild), every story is more interesting than your own when it's you, four walls and a cat. Some of them make you really appreciate the cat.
In the same way, fantastic audio storytelling has taken us away from the everyday and permitted imagination and escapism to thrive. Narrative fiction and drama has grabbed a hold of high end talent and original sound treatments to completely remove you from your home environment and plunge you into other worlds, all with the knowledge of a safe return. Imagination is our engine for hope and is absolutely essential for us to find meaning, purpose and a healthy future-perspective during worrying times.
With any luck, we'll all soon be able to enjoy normal life again, but even when that day comes, the benefits of audio to connect, move, inspire and ease our lives will continue to be relevant.
Perhaps our relationship with sound during the pandemic will also mean that podcasting is more permanently and widely considered a safe place to explore ourselves and our world.