Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Anyone Listening Out There?
I was a little skeptical of my husband’s claim that people just don’t listen anymore. As a coach, it’s what I do with clients and hanging out with other coaches, we listen to each other when we talk. So, this statement from him got me thinking and looking around. I didn’t have to look too hard. This past weekend we were at a dinner party where I realized that he did have a valid point. It was a small gathering of friends and I noticed that some people just loved to bust into conversations which is fine, but then they didn’t ask what the others were talking about and made assumptions as to where the conversation was going and they talked and talked and gave their opinions and made their suggestions and on and on it went. I also realized that I am teaching our daughter who is 10 to stop doing that at home, but decided that perhaps I’ve been too hard on her as some of the adults I know don’t know any better. How come no one listens anymore?
Is it because we are so stressed and running in so many different directions that when we finally relax with friends and family, we just let loose and unburden ourselves and empty our thoughts to anyone who might care to listen? Is it that we have had to stay quiet and keep our opinions to ourselves, perhaps for fear of losing a job, in a dysfunctional marriage where neither partner has a meaningful conversation with each other anymore, hanging out with young children all day without adult companionship, etc.? Is it that we think that it isn’t cool to be a little quiet at a party and you have to mingle and have something to say even if you really don’t? Somehow, being quiet became uncool and unacceptable which is in contradiction to what most people I meet are looking for in their lives.
This kind of behavior also reminds me of what I’ve noticed about TV. It seems that every second of TV time has to be filled with loud and obnoxious noise and so-called entertainment, so much so that it is hard to tell the commercials from the program. Even after all the noise, there is the news clip running down below our screen just in case we find the noise boring and need more visual distraction. I used to love watching a football game from time to time and now with all the commentaries and noises and loud giant robots smashing into each other, it has taken away from the game and just made it noisy entertainment. No wonder our kids are always telling us they are bored. When you turn off all of that noise, the silence can be deafening if you’ve never heard it before.
Perhaps it is all of this noise and distraction that we fill our lives with that does not allow for true self-expression or communication. Or perhaps, we are being trained that in order to be successful or liked, we have to jump in front of an audience and make the loudest noise possible regardless of whether they care to hear us or not. Technology has made it possible to stay in touch with each other regardless of time or distance, but it has minimized the concept of etiquette or real meaningful communication. I find myself in conversations that get started, but go nowhere, because it is easy to lose the train of thought and start a new one. Frankly, I am confused at what friendship even means these days. Technology has helped reduce our attention span to sound bites less than 140 characters and so we are very direct and to the point in our tweets, but have forgotten to call each other just to hear each other’s voices. The convenience is great, but it cannot replace the old fashioned “hello, how are you?” Followed by a real pause with ears that listen to what the person is really saying and eyes that see what the person is not saying and the space to allow for those much needed quiet moments.
Being quiet may be uncool, but it is what we all either unconsciously, secretly or openly crave. It is in those quiet moments that we find that creative idea, notice the birds or the clouds or…, realize what is really going on with our friend, recognize what we need or want in our own life, and eventually find real joy. When we are filled with that inner joy can we then fully participate in the noise out there and our participation is then received and appreciated. If we are empty we have nothing to give, so let’s take the quiet time to fill up, everyone around us will be glad we did.