Friday, August 29, 2014

Listening to Learn

Listen more than you speak, and think before you speak my mother told us from the time we were old enough to do either, and over time we heard her until it was no longer necessary.  To our parents, other children seemed to talk too much, and much of it was sheer nonsense and mischief that went well beyond the normal exuberance of youth.  That wasn't going to happen with their offspring.  My mother was determined to make sure all her children knew how to listen - not because she wanted to discipline us, or because she put a premium on peace and quiet, but because she wanted us to 
learn . . .

My inclination for listening was a boon during the tens of thousands of miles I covered while hitchhiking.  Half a century ago, hitchhiking was far more common - and safer - than it is today, and plenty of cars and trucks stopped to pick me up as I thumbed my way around the country.  After a few introductory words, their drivers probably expected me to doze off for the balance of the trip.  Instead, I saw every driver as an expert on some subject in his own right - whether he was a bricklayer, teacher, tree surgeon, factory worker, waiter, salesman, or a rug cleaner - and after asking an opening question or two, I just sat back, listened closely, and got a dose of enlightenment about each driver's life's skill or passion.  My only regret is that I didn't carry a diary to write down some of the things I heard on these trips; still, what I did learn added up to a free extracurricular education - one that helped me interact with and understand a far broader selection of people than I would ordinarily have encountered as a high school, college, or law student.

Listening didn't always mean remaining silent.  I learned early that good listening meant asking leading questions, and inserting verbal nudges that would tease out what you were really interested in learning . . .

As we grew older, we learned to listen and respond to the arguments of others who disagreed with us.  Especially when we were young, Mother and Father made it clear that incessant talking obstructed the mind from receiving new information and improving itself.  She encouraged us, in the fullest sense of the phrase, to keep an open mind.  "The more you talk, the less you'll have to say," she would remind us.  "The more you listen, the more sensible will be what you say."

-- Ralph Nader, The Seventeen Traditions

No comments: