After all these years I have come to the conclusion that most people don’t listen. It is a possibility that I don’t listen that well myself. This has nothing to do with needing to crank up the sound on my TV these days. We all know that hearing and listening are distinctly different.
From the dictionary we learn that to listen is to pay attention; to heed, to give ear, to take notice of and act on what is said. I like that. Listening comes hand-in-hand with a decision to respond.
I was speaking to a young man the other day and I could tell that he had one eye on me, as if in rapt attention, but the other eye was fixed on his iPhone. I was mesmerized as both his thumbs tapped out a message at a rate faster than the speed of sound.
It suddenly dawned on me that he was not listening. Annoyed, I stopped in mid-sentence. He also stopped typing. I said, “Finish what you’re doing. I can wait.” Without missing a beat, he replied: “No, you go ahead, I am listening.” Hopeful, I asked, “Oh, are you taking notes?” He said, “No, I am helping my friend write an essay for school.”
Really? This is the boy who, in grade school, couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time! Today, he is multitasking? Amazing!
Try to forget for a minute how talented he looked. Never mind that I am decades older. Isn’t it a lack of breeding to be speaking with someone while having another (albeit silent) conversation with somebody else? Isn’t he telling me that he would rather be somewhere else talking with anyone but me? He is tuning me out. This is not rude? Who raised this young man?
I know that the manual of rules for good behavior does not include a single word on etiquette when using electronic gadgets. After all, Emily Post was long gone before the dawn of the smartphone. But listening still is a common courtesy, yes?
At family gatherings, I am so tempted to put up a sign saying: “Check your phones/laptops at the door.” I know I would run the risk of having no-shows.
Listening is a discipline we learn early in life. It is taught at home, hopefully by example. When someone speaks, you listen. If you must interrupt, you say: “Excuse me.” We teach our children the magic words like “please,” “thank you,” and “you are welcome.” We show them how to hold open a door to let someone else walk through. We tell the boys that ladies should always be first. It is Urbanidad 101.
I believe much is lost in the effort to raise healthy, educated, well-rounded children. As they scramble to make enough money for the best schools here or abroad, are parents neglecting the basics? Does a stellar GPA make up for bad manners?
‘Life is different’
I have long known not to expect today’s youth to behave according to the dictates of an era long gone. I am repeatedly told: “This is today. Life is different.” Has life changed so much that uncouth is in? How does one wash their irreverent mouths with soap on Facebook or Twitter?
These youngsters may one day become our leaders, our captains of industry. They are brilliant today and have vision beyond their years. They want to save our planet. One day they will have their own children. Will it be another generation of clueless boys and girls who think that burping is hilarious?
I agree that we may have a different view of propriety. I am told that we give too much importance to refinements and ignore the essence of the man. I don’t agree. It is that very essence we precisely want to protect and preserve.
I was discussing this with a contemporary. He tried to be pragmatic. “There is nothing more we can do,” he said. “Years from now, we will all be gone and there will be no one left to talk about our concept of proper behavior. In the future, what we consider rude and crass today will be accepted, probably even admired and emulated.” Scary thought.
Is there time to change this?
The world is in turmoil and does not seem to care two raps about how people behave. It does not have the time. Hearts are growing cold and less resilient to the stresses of life. Statistics of broken homes are still on the rise. There are many reasons why couples are finding it more difficult to keep it all together. But there seems to be one fundamental flaw.
“Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening,” said British actress Emma Thompson.
I belong to the age group described as “over the hill.” To be quite honest, sometimes I feel I have schlepped up and down that hill several times over. I know the terrain like the palm of my hand. My contemporaries feel the same way I do. We hope to set down a few speed bumps for those who follow. At least we want to try.
Is it worth it? You better believe it is. Will they listen? We can only hope so.
There is no home or family on earth that is exempt from problems. Millions are spent on counseling, drugs, alcohol and other methods of band-aid relief. Won’t someone look our way? We are right here, waiting on the sidelines, eager to help, wondering why no one asks for our thoughts.
Did something happen while we were asleep? Did someone put us out to pasture?
Well, guess what! I refuse to be herded like dumb driven cattle to a “safe” place where I can do neither harm nor any good, left there to ruminate for the rest of my days. When I have something to say, I will say it. If they listen, fine. If they like it, great! If they don’t, that’s okay, too. These are the wages of age. No one said getting old was easy. But while I can, I want to make this journey count for something.
To my senior friends, I say: All aboard!