While reading something the other day, the thought occurred to me that my “listening” had picked up tremendously and my “speaking” had trailed off since moving to Brown County, Indiana. The rationale will be pursued shortly, but first…
There is a difference between “hearing” and “listening.”
“Hearing” is just that – something is heard. And that happens all of the time. You can get used to “hearing” things, but you may disregard a high percentage. When the new windows were installed in my cabin late last year, my “hearing” changed. Previously, one could easily hear a car coming down the gravel road behind the cabin; after installation, no. Also regarding vehicles, you could previously hear engine noise on most vehicles on the road; after installation, maybe trucks, although not all trucks. Inside the cabin, however, most sounds were noticed more and music was clearer. And some sounds were unusual enough, having not been noticed before, that they caught your attention. Unless you pay attention to what is heard, there is no “listening,” just “hearing.”
So at a party or having a discussion around the kitchen table, you may “hear” everything said, but only “listen” to part of it. Maybe what you “hear” isn’t of interest to you or unknown to you and you really don’t care to learn or follow the conversation any closer. But, when you “listen,” you are paying attention in order to respond, offer your thoughts, learn, or for some other reason. My bet is that many may not listen to learn. It is uncertain if planning your response while listening is real listening. That is possible, given there is adequate command and knowledge of the topic and so long as you are, in fact, listening – just hearing doesn’t seem to be enough.
Among people, then, with many new friends since my move to near Nashville, Indiana, about fifteen months ago, there is now more listening or hearing – depending on the subject, perhaps – than speaking. The reason was not instantaneously clear, but was nearly that, from one perspective. “New” friends required listening (and hearing) to know them and learn about them and many of these new friends were smart people. And the smarter they were, the less likely there was any contribution of mine that would seem required. The new friends seemed to have had many experiences beyond my meager ones. They seemed to be better read. They were deeper thinkers. And, unless they were interested in individual life insurance underwriting assessment, there was little depth for me to add. And that’s not to say my friends from my past residences were not intelligent. They were. They were bloggers, authors, musicians, some artists, educators, and other interesting careers. These Brown County folks were new with different focus than previous friends.
While “listening” was always vital to what the insurance tasks called for, maybe that listening was pretty narrow, professionally. Managerially, there had to be some attributes of listening that were more meaningful than others, except that managerial thought has not been a particularly hot topic here in the woods of Brown County. Even if it were, listening is the easiest part, but what you do with what you hear through listening is critical. Artists, musicians, professors, and educators seem to be in more abundance among new friends whilst other careers offered very well-read folks as well. The listening seems different for each career. Life experiences are what they are. Maybe my perception of my experiences is inadequate while the new experiences that others share is just more interesting. It isn’t a matter of being able to top another’s experience, but bringing to the conversation what might be interesting enough to not bore the listeners and be a commensurate participant. For me, that is not an unacceptable position. Maybe that’s key. And the topic can always be redirected.