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Why Active Listening Is More Important Than Ever


I think I generally remember the first time I began to really question the world around me. I was around 9 or 10 and I lived in a small rural town in county Sligo. Like most families in rural Ireland at the time, mine were Catholic and with Catholicism came the weekly pilgrimage to the local parish for a 40 to 50 minute mass and if, we were lucky only 30 minutes, on Christmas day so we could all get home to open our presents.

One weekend I had been staying over at a friend’s house and the arrangement had been that my mam and dad would pick me up at church on Sunday. So along came Sunday morning anyway and my friend and his dad drove into the car park left me at the door and then left. Straight away I thought to myself “where are they going?”, “had they availed of the well known yet less popular Saturday mass after 6?” They couldn’t have because I was with my friend all day on Saturday. This thought lingered with me throughout mass. Not out of anger or anything but probably out of envy that he got to go home while I was sitting there.

After the service I asked my mam and dad in the car why they didn’t go. Obviously they didn’t know the inner theological thoughts of my friend or his indeed that of his parents. I remember my dad just responding with, “not everyone goes to church”, but the discussion never really went beyond that.

I suppose you can say I lived a sheltered life. I probably, to be fair, lived the ideal childhood you could hope for someone at my age. I never had to worry about the extremities of the outside world. The biggest worry in my life at the time was probably whether I was going to get 2 or 3 hours on the Xbox (I always managed to squeeze in 4 hours). Any work-related problems that arose in my parents’ line of work was never really discussed in my presence and that’s certainly no fault of my parents. The last thing any 10-year-old wants to be worrying about is the goings on of an adult and I was extremely privileged that I never had to worry about such things.

Further questions on different aspects of life only escalated when my family moved to Dublin in 2011. I had always taken a keen interest in people and, to no ones shock, I was part of a small group of certified “culchies” in my secondary school, although that didn’t stop me trying to get on with everyone I could!

My favourite subjects in school were probably History, English and Technical Graphics and I later grew to love the subject of Religion. Primarily in the subjects of Religion, English and History I began to appreciate that I didn’t have all the answers, but it opened a completely new way for me to look at the world and that was through active viewing/listening. I often found that it was certainly difficult to keep to this way of thinking because it involved a lot of keeping my opinions to myself which at the time and, as some of my good friends today will probably still advocate, I really didn’t and still don’t really know how to shut up!

Over the year I got more involved with debating at school. At the time it was great! You’d relish in the ability to be more researched on a topic than your opposition and to a certain extend it definitely promoted an aura of self-indulgent cockiness disguised as confidence. It becomes evidently clear though that, outside of the debating classroom, that approach to normal discourse just doesn’t work. Everyday people don’t approach a conversation having heavily researched a topic and with 100% objectivity and that’s because people have a lot more things to be worrying about and don’t want to be lectured to by some secondary school student about whether free speech is or isn’t an absolute divine right.

With that knowledge in mind it only further cemented my position of this active viewing/listening mentality that I constructed in my head (but certainly wasn’t of my own creation) and it’s something I’ve kept with me to this day. Although just to be clear, it certainly doesn’t stop me from being opinionated on occasion! I found that through this approach I learnt a lot more than anything I would have learnt had I gone in with an almost siege mentality towards discussion.

In 2019 my good friend Leona and I started a YouTube channel called Media.wmv. The main premise for the content on that channel was to interview public figures from all walks of life. It gave me a chance to really explore this concept of discussion in an interviewing format. In early 2020 I started a series called ‘Young People in Politics’ where I tried my best to interview a young member from most of the major political parties throughout Ireland. The questions to each guest varied very little bar the odd one or two extra questions I’d ask as a result of topics brought up during the discussion but almost each and every answer was so different, and the individuality of every guest showed. These weren’t just the average stereotypical “political hacks” that often get associated with politically active young people, instead they all had their own personal story to tell and were all so receptive to people wanting to talk to them. I’ve always been a huge believer in trying to get to the heart of a person rather than trying to use them as a fancy soundbite or headline and the numerous amounts of positive feedback I got from people suggests I’m not the only one!

In a journalistic era where there are fantastic, hardworking journalists on every corner that unfortunately get over-shadowed by careerists and interviewers that are more than happy to read out a list of questions and arecontent with whatever answer arises it is now more than ever so important for people to actively listen and engage with the people you interview on a professional level but also to the people you talk to on a personal level.


Odhrán Johnson is a 21-year-old final year Law and History student in DCU and lives in Dublin. Odhrán also runs two podcast series called ‘404’ and ‘Young People in Politics’ on his YouTube channel Media.wmv

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