Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Try Listening

Watched an interesting film recently. The story centered on a rather naïve young man who enjoyed helping others by knowing what bothers them. At one point he is asked how he knows what people are thinking. He replies that the trick is knowing how to listen. Rather than thinking about what he will say next during a conversation, he listens carefully to the speaker and can tell what the other person will likely say next.

This movie struck home with me. People always seem so focused on the next point they are about to make that they cease listening and are merely waiting their turn. For some time I have implored others to help save the art of verbal communication.

Listening skills are important and should be nurtured.

Since I was a teen-ager, others have labeled me a "good listener." People I have worked with or spent time with have said that is one of my strong traits -- the ability to listen to others. I'm unsure how this characteristic developed. Perhaps when I was younger, I didn't have anything too insightful to add to the conversation. Or maybe I was a bit shy.

Why is conversation dying? How did this happen? Many factors are at play.

Part of the blame stems from trying to have a conversation in a room where a television is blasting. People seem to talk only during the commercials or station breaks. When there is a break in programming, we rush to express ourselves so as not to interrupt the show/news/movie. It's the result of trying to be polite and save time, I suppose.

Part of the blame must go to "reality television," a subject that is a real thorn in my side. For those who don't get it, reality television is scripted. It is a method to convince the viewers they are overhearing personal arguments, conversation and displays of temper, a sort of strange eavesdropping. In fact, "reality" television is a cheap way of filling air time without bothering with a structured plot, high-priced talent or elaborate sets. The result is a rather vicarious means of letting the viewer overhear what is being said. It's all phony and silly. It is this one-way conversation of sharing details and drivel that makes viewers believe their own details and drivel are fascinating to others.

People think I'm a good listener because of my ability to tune out about 99% of what I hear. If my lunch partner thinks that I'm absorbed by how often she changes her grandson's diaper, then she needs to pay attention to my glazed-over eyes. I can smile and nod through the agonizing details about some uninteresting trip she has just taken and appear to be listening.

All the while my mind is screaming, "WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?" My smile is set and I'm planning to bolt for the door at any moment. I guess that makes me a good listener.

A conversation should involve two parties interacting with each other. It doesn't happen very often any more. This fact used to cause me great concern. I would concoct ways to inject good old chatting back into society. However, I have given up completely. Rather than attempt to resuscitate something that no longer has life, let's focus on appearing to listen without dozing off. That way everyone believes they are participating in the conversation and no one gets offended.

Just try not to snore.

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