What's the source of that incomparably joyful feeling that results instantaneously when somebody hears us? Boing!! Our inner core is automatically strengthened. This is true for infants all the way up through the elderly. And what's totally wondrous is that even if someone has been abandoned, abused, or addicted, he still is able to feel like he just got an "A+" when he is, at last, genuinely heard. Real listening goes that deep.

When we devote our time and energy to listening to others, especially those who don't often get heard, we are helping them gain a clearer sense of themselves. When we refrain from jumping in and teaching, and allow those who are often not heard, to speak, they also get the chance to hear themselves. Then we can get to find out who they are, but far more importantly, they get to find out who they are.

Teaching and learning are not meant to be one-way processes, but mutual, empathetic, and respectful exchangesIn Hebrew, the word to teach, le-lamed has the same root as the word lil-mode to learn. When a student gets the opportunity to really be heard and understood by a teacher, that's when they each get the chance to learn and grow, and their roles, in essence, are entwined. As these Hebrew words tell us, ideally, teaching and learning are not meant to be one-way processes, but mutual, empathetic, and respectful exchanges. And the Torah teaches us that each student needs to be taught according to his own way, al pi darko. But how could a teacher even find out the student's unique way, without first caring and listening to him? That seems to be the prerequisite for successful learning to take place.

We have powerful inner cores, but the focus of education throughout our lives seems to be on stuffing lots of knowledge in, not on bringing out and building up each other's marvelous intuition. In English too, etymologically, we can find that the word education is derived from educare (Latin) "bring up", which is related to educere "bring out", "bring forth what is within", bring out potential" and ducere, "to lead" (Etymonline.com).

How different our world could become if education was primarily focused on strengthening our innate and, for the most part, latent intuition capabilities. For one thing, with children who have their intuitive instincts reinforced consistently so that they can truly blossom, sexual predators and fakers of all types would no longer be able to have a field day with them. With great and frequent efforts made to develop intuition, the most intimate parts of a person - physically, emotionally and spiritually - can remain strongly protected.

In my early twenties, I got to experience how listening could transform my life. For years, while growing up, I lived with a constant gnawing for something missing, something that my inner core was craving. I spent years searching in many different directions (and looking in lots of wrong places). Along the way, people gave me lots of different answers.

Then one day, one person paused to spend the time and energy to encourage me to search my own heart and answer my own questions. I was amazed to discover that there actually were some essential points of truth to be found in my inner core. Only after that was I was able to clarify that I wanted to learn more about the Torah's guidelines. When we really hear somebody, we can truly absorb the distinctness of his or her soul. Those long moments when a friend patiently waited for me to dig within and find buried treasure, were clearly turning points in my life. I've thought of them so often ever since. Answers were deep in there, alright, but they just needed some coaxing from somebody who really wanted to hear them, to come out. And though hesitant to emerge at first – in a barely audible whisper - they later came pouring on out, thrilled to be released, acknowledged, and respected.

When we really hear somebody, we can truly absorb the distinctness of his or her soulChassidic philosophy teaches that shmiah, "to hear, or to listen," means "to absorb," as in Shema Yisrael Hashem Eloheinu Hashem Echad. It is explained that when we truly listen, whether to ourselves or to others, we connect to a deep level of the soul. And the fact that the most fundamental prayer of Judaism is the Shema, demonstrates the great significance we ascribe to listening in Judaism. When we really hear somebody, we can truly absorb the distinctness of his or her soul, while at the same time strengthening the connection not only between our souls, but also to the Soul of Souls - Who is One.

We may have to strain to hear our own as well as each other's inner voices, simply because we are not used to doing that very much. Imagine what it would be like if we didn't feel compelled to stuff children up with our own attitudes and opinions and we encouraged them from early on to trust the intuition that resides deep in their souls. With a strong inner core nurtured from early on, young people would undoubtedly have the potential to prevent the searing pain of abandonment, abuse, and addiction from affecting their lives as prevalently as they do today. Many more moments could turn into A+ ones.

We all want to be heard, but it is so hard to really listen – even to ourselves! Just about all of us have come to think of education as being about bringing knowledge from the outside in, not from the inside out, but it's really an exchange between one bottomless well of wisdom to another. We are souls with unique worlds to share. So we're all in this together – struggling to encourage ourselves and each other to value the vast insight implanted within each of us. And since we have all hopefully experienced how it feels when we're finally heard, we can savor those incomparably joyous validations as reminders to try to listen to ourselves and each other kindly, carefully, and patiently.

First as whispers, someday as cheers, let our still, small voices resound.

Daughter, Different

She wouldn't listen.
I explained it to her.
Again and again.
Put things away.
Before you start.
Each new project.
Clean up first.
So everything stays.
Neat and orderly.
But she didn't listen.

She succeeded
In doing things
Her way -
Unafraid of messing up,
Leaving traces all about,
As she went along
Creating stuff,
Like her own way
Of explaining life,
And I finally listened.