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The Laurel Lesson

I hear Laurel. Most of the time. I have, though, heard Yanny, as well. I’ve listened and read to the many explanations on why different people hear a different word and I think I am starting to understand the science behind it. There is a much bigger lesson to be learned in all of this, though. What it really means to listen.

When we finally put aside the bewilderment, the arguing, the skepticism and the insistence on “our word” being right, we are left with a basic idea. Two people can listen to the same thing and hear something very different. And, more importantly… that is okay.

I think we - as humans and as a country - lose sight of that sometimes. We forget that the brain can work differently, it can interpret things differently and it can leave us with no definitive right or wrong answer. That is when we have a choice. We can spend our energies trying to convince someone else that we are correct (often by method of shouting as loudly as possible or talking over one another) or we can spend our energies working toward agreement with the full acceptance that we can hear things differently.

For me, the Yanny/Laurel conversation is a microcosm of my marriage and my relationship with my wife since before we were married. We fight. She is Italian, I am both Italian and Irish. We have convictions and are passionate about those convictions. Our fights are almost always the same:

I say something.

My wife hears something.


My wife says something.

I hear something.

Very rarely is the “something” the same thing. My wife hears things I say differently than how I say them. I hear things my wife says differently than how she says them. For a long time, I would (ignorantly) label my wife a bad listener. In short, I was dismissive. She was not a bad listener, at all. She was listening very intently, she was just hearing something different. I was saying Yanny and she was hearing Laurel.

There are a million and one reasons why we hear things our partners, spouses, friends and family say differently than how they said them. Some reasons are psychological, some are emotional, some are historical, some are physiological and all are okay.

If we can - in response to this wacky, random sound byte - begin to learn the value of acceptance as a listening skill, perhaps we can slowly move toward embracing acceptance as a way of life. Perhaps we can tear down walls instead of building new ones. Perhaps we can extend an open palm instead of a pointed finger. Perhaps we can learn to love again.

Don’t let the irony of the word at the root of this be lost. Laurel, a plant commonly woven together into a wreath, has been a symbol throughout history of achievement and used to bestow honor. Perhaps we can don this laurel with honor as we achieve a new level of acceptance for one another.

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