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Are You Listening?

Ernest Hemingway put it bluntly: “Most people never listen.”

Given that meaningful relationships are crucial to human thriving, it is unfortunate that the ability to listen should be so underestimated, and so rare.

The importance of listening was apparently a concern in the earliest days of Western philosophy. Zeno of Citium (334-262 B.C.), the founder of Stoicism, proclaimed, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” A few centuries later, his philosophical descendant Epictetus taught, “Whoever is going to listen to the philosophers needs considerable practice in listening.”

But listening has gotten short shrift in philosophy over the years. While attempts to break down moral character into a list of virtues — like courage, honesty, self-control and so on — go back at least to Aristotle, the ability to listen never made the list. Philosophy is mostly silent on the moral importance of being a good listener.

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