InnerNet Weekly: What I Learned In Africa

Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.
InnerNet Weekly: Inspirations from
What I Learned In Africa
by Henning Mankell

[Listen to Audio!]

785.jpgI ended up in Africa because the plane ticket there was cheapest. I came and I stayed. For nearly 25 years I’ve lived off and on in Mozambique. Time has passed, and I’m no longer young; in fact, I’m approaching old age. But my motive for living this straddled existence, with one foot in African sand and the other in European snow, in the melancholy region of Norrland in Sweden where I grew up, has to do with wanting to see clearly, to understand.

The simplest way to explain what I’ve learned from my life in Africa is through a parable about why human beings have two ears but only one tongue. Why is this? Probably so that we have to listen twice as much as we speak.

In Africa listening is a guiding principle. It’s a principle that’s been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world, where no one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else. From my own experience, I’ve noticed how much faster I have to answer a question during a TV interview than I did 10, maybe even 5, years ago. It’s as if we have completely lost the ability to listen. We talk and talk, and we end up frightened by silence, the refuge of those who are at a loss for an answer. […]

A number of years ago I sat down on a stone bench outside the Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique, where I work as an artistic consultant. It was a hot day, and we were taking a break from rehearsals so we fled outside, hoping that a cool breeze would drift past. The theater’s air-conditioning system had long since stopped functioning. It must have been over 100 degrees inside while we were working.

Two old African men were sitting on that bench, but there was room for me, too. In Africa people share more than just water in a brotherly or sisterly fashion. Even when it comes to shade, people are generous.

I heard the two men talking about a third old man who had recently died. One of them said, "I was visiting him at his home. He started to tell me an amazing story about something that had happened to him when he was young. But it was a long story. Night came, and we decided that I should come back the next day to hear the rest. But when I arrived, he was dead."

The man fell silent. I decided not to leave that bench until I heard how the other man would respond to what he’d heard. I had an instinctive feeling that it would prove to be important.

Finally he, too, spoke.

"That’s not a good way to die — before you’ve told the end of your story."

It struck me as I listened to those two men that a truer nomination for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans, the storytelling person. What differentiates us from animals is the fact that we can listen to other people’s dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires and defeats — and they in turn can listen to ours.

–Henning Mankell, translated from Swedish by Tiina Nunnally

Share the Wisdom:
Email Twitter FaceBook
Latest Community Insights New!
What I Learned In Africa
PK wrote: I am a talkative guy. When i listen to something deep or interesting, it stirs some memories, insights and then I talk. There were a few situations, where, i just listened and did not know what …
Ganoba wrote: Listening from the heart begins when we listen to our own voice. This prepares us to listen to others, particularly when they ramble. When a person is beating around the bush he/she has somethin…
Derek wrote: When we listen more.. we connect more……
Ricky wrote: What an amazing insight, not only with the observation about western culture and it’s incessant white noise, but about the art of listening, and the application of the African parable two ears, …
Conrad P. Pritscher wrote: When it comes to hearing about my flaws, I find I am a poor listener. I immediately start thinking of how I might defend myself. My experience with a wide variety of exercises at the…
David Doane wrote: I also think we talk compulsively and listen poorly. As Alcoholics Anonymous points out, we would do well to get the cotton out of our ears and put it in our mouths. Talking can be v…
Manisha wrote: Months ago I was sitting by the fire on a chilly night in the mountains. We had just finished watching the sun set and I turned my attention downward, looking deep into the lake. There was the crackle…
Share/Read Reflections >>
Wednesday Meditation:
Many years ago, a couple friends got together to sit in silence for an hour, and share personal aha-moments. That birthed this newsletter, and later became “Wednesdays”, which now ripple out to living rooms around the world. To join, RSVP online.

RSVP For Wednesday

Audio Reflections

From last week’s Bay-Area circle on The Great Dictator

Some Good News

11 Amazing Thank You Notes
7 Habits of Mindful Eating
Valentine’s Day Wisdom

Video of the Week

Dan’s Coffee Run

Kindness Stories

A Spirit Guide To Lean On
Cat Calls Or Hot Chocolate
Can I Borrow Your Kids?

Back in 1997, one person started sending this simple “meditation reminder” to a few friends. Soon after, “Wednesdays” started, CharityFocus blossomed, and the humble experiments of service took a life of its own. If you’d like to start a Wednesday style meditation gathering in your area, we’d be happy to help you get started.

Forward to a Friend

InnerNet Weekly is an email service that delivers a little bit of wisdom to 70,287 subscribers each week. We never spam nor do we host any advertising. Archives, from the last 10+ years, are freely available online.

You can unsubscribe anytime, within seconds.

A Gift Economy offering of (2008)

Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: