The Listening Game

The Listening Game – Inspired by Tawnee

What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to be alive and conscious, living on this world, in community with the multitude of persons around us? Some paradigms would have us believe that we are all separate, that the only thing that exists in the physical world is simply dead material, simply physical matter. That the only things that exists are that which we can see and test and predictably repeat over and over again. And they would assert that consciousness, mind, spirit, soul, are chemical constructs of the material world. Or they would say that the sky god created the material world, out of nothingness [the dead body of the murdered goddess], created it and rules over it, and that every soul is an extension of itself [him]. But they would say that the material world is the world of sin and evil, and that they ultimate goal of life is to get back into the spiritual, which does not exist within the material world, and we must ever strive to escape this mortal prison of sin and flesh, escape it to return back of the loving embrace of the sky god, or be judged to have not yearned earnestly enough and be damned to everlasting damnation, but that you only have this one chance ever to try and get it right.

I don’t really like that paradigm. It doesn’t seem like very much fun. I prefer a paradigm that says that we are all one great big organism, working together to grow and learn and evolve. I prefer a paradigm where the divine is present in every moment, in every atom, every cell, inside and out, that all of physical reality is woven together in the fluid dynamics of love. I prefer a paradigm where the purpose of my physical existence is to figure out how to embody the best possible version of myself.

It seems to be that in the recent past (last 4,000 years), we have been pretty hard on ourselves. That first paradigm up there, the one with the sky god, seems to have resulted in a lot of violence. It seems to have resulted in a lot of people concluding that they were evil, and not generally worthy of salvation, and so they might as well go ahead of be evil anyways. So it seems to me that the way forward is to enable everyone to realize that they already have salvation inside of them. That they were never broken, that we don’t need fixing, but perhaps we do need some love and care. We need healing, but not the kind of healing you go to a hospital for. We need the kind of healing that comes when we learn how to treat each other well. When we re-learn how to live in community. How to be vulnerable with one another. How to understand each other. How to support one another. When we learn how to balance with the light and the dark, the good and the bad. Darkness isn’t evil. Darkness is simply the opposite of light. Darkness is Gravity. Yin and Yang. But not a battle between them, one trying to dominate the other. The balance we seek is the ongoing, everlasting push-pull flow, pulsing back and forth, BREATHING.

And we all need each other to take care of each other, need one another to help us grow. People, us, the two-legged tool-makers, the builders of machines… what does it mean to be one of us? I think we are the shape-shifters. The dreamers. The makers. The imagination. We can be whatever we can imagine. We create the world around ourselves. We have the power, when we choose to claim it, the power of Understanding the Perspectives of Others. Understanding their experiences, understanding their perspectives, understanding that we are both alone, separate, ourselves, autonomous, and at the same time, we are one, unified, hive mind always connected, thinking together, with every living molecule in existence.

It is the very act of being understood by the ones we love that is the greatest healing. For many, many traumas, this one healing may be enough. No other “treatments” may be necessary.

So what is the Listening Game? It is a tool by which we begin to heal ourselves. It is a tool by which we reclaim the depth and sincerity of our personal relationships. It is a tool by which we no longer need for the psychology industry, not because that work is no longer needed, but because we can all be competent and qualified to do this work for each other, for our loved ones, instead of going to a stranger who sits, disconnected from your life by sterile protocols. This is not to say that we won’t still need healers. Not to say that we won’t still need the specialists to help those deeply traumatized, or to administer to a community. But it is an acknowledgement that everyone alive, including the healers, need healing.

And from a more mundane, materialistic perspective, the Listening Game is also a thinking tool for the Speaker. Many of us occasionally have the need to Think Out Loud. This is often known as Talking to Oneself. But it can be so much more fun and effective with a Listener to help digest and process the thoughts. In some ways, this is a work contract between the Listener and the Speaker, wherein the Listener is doing work for the Speaker. They are literally using the Listener as an extension of their brain: increasing the computational power. As such, it is appropriate to consider The Listening Game as an activity of credit exchange. Ideally, a balance is maintained on this credit, by trading back and forth. One is encouraged to seek a general balance of Listening and Speaking on any given day and over the course of their life.

Speaking could be called an active-giving activity, while Listening could be called a passive-receiving activity. [skip here a long digression about the nature of giving & receiving, passive & active, mental & physical, male & female energy, donuts, pulsing jellyfish, and breathing]

This game is not without risk. Participants entrust each other with emotional and psychological vulnerability. The Listener must protect themselves by maintaining good boundaries between their own thoughts, and the thoughts of the Speaker. The Listener is there to provide a container for the thoughts of the Speaker. They are not obliged to adopt any of the Speaker’s thoughts. Indeed people are encouraged to closely examine new thoughts, and test them out thoroughly before adopting them as their own, much the way one might test drive a used car and take it to a mechanic for an inspection before buying it.

The Speaker, the one who entrusts their thoughts to be held by the Listener, is vulnerable to untrained or unscrupulous Listeners who may insert their own thoughts into their reflection of the speaker’s thoughts, which is a violation of the Speaker’s psychological autonomy and is counterproductive to the goal of mutual understanding. This violation sabotages the goal of being Heard, Understood, and Safe.

Listener violations generally occur in the following manners.

  1. Listener changes the subject
  2. Listener contradicts a Speaker’s statement
  3. Listener mis-interprets Speaker’s meaning, or manipulatively re-frames the Speaker’s words
  4. Listener fails to listen, either by distraction, self-involvement, or apathy
  5. Listener gives advice of any kind (basically any statement that includes the words “you should”

Ideally, these violations would not be taken personally, but they would be acknowledged and used as information to conclude that perhaps the person is not prepared to do Listening Work at that particular moment, and that what they really need is to Speak.

Being fully understood by other people is a fundamental need of conscious beings. Playing The Listening Game serves to deepen emotional bonds and promote a communal feeling of comfort and belonging. All relationships of any possible permutation can benefit from the practice of this game, across all species, and states of animation. It is exactly the aspect of vulnerability that makes the game meaningful. It can also be practiced at varying levels of vulnerability and depth, but it is ideal for the participants to mutually consent on the degree of vulnerability they are engaging in.

Players: Listener & Speaker


  1. Mutual understanding and fellowship between individual people.
  2. Expand the Speaker’s mental computational power in developing and idea, understanding a dilemma, or making a decision.
  3. Provide the Listener with practice in understanding the viewpoints and experiences of people other than themselves.

General Rules:

  1. Each person speaks only from their own experience
  2. For the purposes of this game, the idea that there is one absolute truth that holds everything together, and against which statements could be empirically backed-up is outright suspended. The only truth one can truly know is the truth of their own personal experience. As such…
  3. It is disallowed to ever make a direct contradiction to any of the speaker’s statements about their experience.

Useful phrases:
“That is not my experience.”
“I experience that differently.”
“Why do you feel that way?”

Rules for the Speaker:

  1. Speak from/about only your own personal experience
  2. Avoid broad generalizations
  3. Take responsibility for making sure that your meaning is understood by the Listener (if your meaning is mis-understood, it’s probably your responsibility to re-frame it in a way that can be understood)
  4. What to Speak about: ANYTHING (ideal topics include…)
    1. Observations about life, the universe, and everything
    2. Laying-out general life plans and goals
    3. Working through psychological traumas, exploration of one’s own state of consciousness in search of greater understanding of self, seeking to re-program one’s personal storyline so as to shift into healthier behavior patterns
    4. Ideas, inventions, dreams, sill stories
    5. Traveling yarns
    6. Fishing tales
    7. Familial relationships
    8. Creative inspiration
  5. AVOID speculation about the thoughts and experiences of other people – this is hardest to avoid when talking about one’s own family or spouse, but this is exactly the time when it’s most important to remember this.

Rules for the Listener:

  1. Never, ever, give advice of any kind [The word “should” is a common indicator that advice is being given. Use this word as a marker to indicate when you need to stop and re-frame your statements.] Listener may make observations about the activities and behaviors of the Speaker. Listener may tell anecdotes from their own experience that mirror/resemble the experience that the speaker is talking about, but this can easily turn into the violation of Changing the Subject. Comparative Anecdotes are an advanced pro move, and this option must be taken with care.
  2. Avoid making general statements, and avoid leading the course of the conversation in any way. The purpose of this tool is to focus on the thought processes of the Speaker.
  3. Listener is encouraged to Reflect theings that the speaker has said, in order for the Speaker to hear the things they have said, in order help them understand themself. This allows the Speaker to hear their thoughts reflected back to them in their own words, or translated through the mind of another (as the two may negotiate), both of which can allow for further insight by the Speaker.
  4. The Listener may ask leading questions, but it is up to the discretion of the speaker to interpret leading questions, and whether or not to answer them.
  5. Help the Speaker to avoid speculation or generalizations about other people’s thoughts and intentions.

Important to Remember:
The Listener is doing work for the Speaker, because they facilitate the Speaker’s thoughts. This is a gift that the Listener gives to the Speaker. Again, it is intended that this work will be continuously traded back and forth, so that no person ever runs much of a surplus or deficit at any time.


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