I bought this book for two reasons. First, I love the idea of the Do Book Company. Simple, short, well-designed books about a single topic. Second, as a solutions-oriented person, I sometimes forget to just listen for the sake of it.
The author also produced a feature documentary on the power of sound and storytelling entitled Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound.
Just listening without providing answers isn’t second-nature to me. I blame my programming background for this. A coder’s job is to find solutions to problems, but that’s not an excuse. This book was an attempt to at least think of becoming a better listener.
The intro is unremarkable but I started liking it from the 2nd chapter. The message of the book is uplifting but important. There are many unusual stories and just enough of a personal touch from the author.
One glaring editing error made me almost abandon the book in chapter 1. The first sentence is “A US national news channel recently conducted an experiment.”
Which news channel? When is “recently”? I could be reading the book at anytime. There’s no footnote, link or citation. Without the source, the first pages are useless to me. I can’t quote the study or even find more data about it.
The Gleaming Detail – because in that one detail, the entire story comes alive.
I simply listened and asked active memory questions that appealed to the senses. Ordinary ones. What did you see? What time of day was it? What did you hear? What did you do next? Ordinary details.
If he [the storyteller] could simply make us see the world as he saw it that day – in all its boring, prosaic details – we would be there with him.
1. The Lost Art of Listening
Take time for nature and tune in to your surroundings.
M’aider!’ – a shortened form of ‘Venez m’aider’, French for ‘Help me!’ This became the international call sign ‘Mayday!’ for help
When radio communications first came in during World War One, the people on either end of a conversation soon realised that they needed to confirm they were listening – often by saying ‘Roger’ or ‘Roger that’ periodically.
Since the Industrial Age, our ears have been under assault. Now, we close our ears to all the overlapping, nonstop sonic intrusions.
While you’re on your walk, take the time to rediscover all those sounds from the natural world seeking you out to grab your attention.
2. Sound Memories
We asked each of our interviewees to name their favourite childhood sound memory.
Note: Interesting exercise.
For me, the exercise took me back to those hot, humid summer nights at the home of my grandmother. As the mothers called their children in, their screen doors screeched open. And then, as we bounded inside beneath the bright overhead fluorescent kitchen lights, the screen doors would be left to lurch their way back to closed – swinging, creaking and then slamming – thwack! It was the sound that we were all in now, safe and sound.
Edison, who was partially deaf, was asked which one, of over a thousand inventions, was his favourite. Without hesitation he answered, ‘Sound recording.’
3. When We Close Our Ears
I know full well what it’s like to live in the oxygen-deprived presence of someone who loves the sound of his own voice, and I bet many of us are familiar with the feeling of being obligated to listen to someone.
Annie Proulx, author of Brokeback Mountain, said in her National Book Award speech on 16 November 2017: This is a Kafkaesque time … We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures.
If we choose to not listen to what makes us uncomfortable, how will we ever grow?
4. And So It Begins
Daryl Davis has made it his life’s work to befriend Klansmen. Many times, he is the first black person they have actually spoken to.
The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) have derided Davis for associating with any member of the Klan. But Davis sees this as his life mission. Davis believes that to make change happen, ‘you have to find some brotherhood.’
Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
5. To Listen is an Active Verb
Louis CK, a prominent comedian, came out immediately with a fresh new take. He responded to his six accusers, saying, ‘These stories are true.’ People were surprised by his frankness. He acknowledged his abuse of power and how perverse and one-sided his perspective was.
When you listen your heart becomes open to change. You see the world from a perspective other than your own.
The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.
— Alfred Brendel, KBE
Denying what you hear – cutting off the call to action – will inexorably lead to a person becoming lost to themselves forever.
6. Listening Brings Truth
Maureen Chiquet was offered the opportunity to become the global CEO for Chanel, Inc. The transition came with this caveat: she had to spend three full years of training before taking on complete responsibility. In particular, she was asked to do nothing but listen. For an entire year.
She was able to say, ‘Real authority comes when you are able to strike the right balance. You need to listen to others, and you need to be attuned to yourself.’
A key part of deep listening is the courage and the willingness to see ourselves as others see us – which can be both mortifying and deeply gratifying – and then to still listen to the truth of who we really are.
7. How We Learn to Listen Differently
Dog-behaviour scientists say that shepherd dogs, as a breed, can learn up to one thousand words or commands in our language.
Through listening we can find similarities. While you are crossing the barrier of your own ego by listening to another’s point of view, you are also creating an opening in order to find a new way forward – a new hope in the world.
8. The Foundation for Respect
The talking stick is not a new concept. Also called a ‘Speaker’s Staff’, it is used by the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. The stick is passed around a group, from member to member, and it allows everyone to be heard.
We shout each other down with our own righteous indignation. But what good comes from singing alone?
I was in the back seat of his cab. There was no place for me to go. He was becoming increasingly angry. Note: Terrifying
9. Listen, Really Listen
Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish virtuoso percussionist, became profoundly deaf at the age of twelve and thereafter taught herself to hear with parts of her body
I [Bobette, the author] was extremely fortunate to study under the ground-breaking Professor of Speech and Performance Arts, Charlotte I. Lee, whose mantra was, ‘Listen, really listen to the words.’ She taught us to apply the concept of kinaesthesia to language.
Never question the wisdom of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders. — L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful World of Oz
Perhaps the hardest thing to do as we grow up and grow older is to stay young and curious.
On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy Carl R. Rogers
Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations Frederick Buechner
Highlights and covers are copyright to their respective authors.