Listen Up

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. – Fran Lebowitz

I saw this quote the other day and began to think about the last time I had a really good conversation with someone. And then I asked myself, “How many true conversations have I ever had?” – Not all that many, it seems.

Lebowitz hit the nail on the head here. Watch closely the next time you see two people talking. Do you see one person speaking immediately followed by the other one responding? Person #2 in that conversation already had in mind what to say before person #1 had even finished the thought. Person #2 was waiting instead of listening. When you think about it, it’s actually kind of rude. But it’s something almost everyone does.

Everyone has thoughts they want to express. To many people, it’s more important to speak than to listen. And besides, silence during a conversation is usually uncomfortable. If it happens, someone is tempted to fill the space with words. But silence is necessary in a conversation if true listening is to take place. Silence allows for comprehension and response preparation.

Then there are times when people are talking at each other rather than to each other. You know how it works. One person completes a thought. The other one (seemingly oblivious to what was just said) immediately introduces an entire new topic. Words are just out there in space for anyone interested.

I’ve been guilty of it myself far too often. Even during my years as a reporter, I often wrote down the source’s response while thinking about the next question I was ready to ask. Even reporters don’t listen at times.

But as I’ve aged, I’ve learned how to really listen. It involves patience and no preconceived agenda. Many times when someone is finished speaking to me, they’ll notice a pause in the conversation. I’ve been listening. Now I’m contemplating my response. Then I speak. That’s how listening works. And it really isn’t that hard if you try.

When you’re really listening, you’ll learn to notice what the person isn’t saying as much as what they are saying. That’s also a form of listening. You’ll also begin to notice body language. Yes, EVERYONE speaks in body language. And it can say a lot more than can words. Someone’s words combined with what they’re not saying and their body language can sometimes say something entirely different from what is coming out of their mouth. That’s advanced listening.

If you get really good at it, some people will think you have a special gift – that you have an intuition not shared by other people. My response: “I was just listening.”

So I encourage everyone to try it. True listening can almost always make good conversations even better. And you just might hear something that you would miss otherwise.



Judgment Day

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. – Rita Mae Brown

It’s easy to judge a book by its cover. It’s also one of the most stupid things a person can do.

Too often in my life I’ve judged people by outward appearance, their job or any one of a hundred different first bits of information about them. Never NEVER again!

I’ve been looking for a career job for about three years now. But in our troubled economy the competition for every job is fierce. And let’s face it. How many companies want to hire a middle-aged, white, male media relations official? I know that every job for which I apply has at least a dozen or more younger people of different demographics whom companies will think they can pay less. But they are making a BAD mistake by overlooking me. You see, I am the type of employee who doesn’t need an exorbitant salary. I just need enough to live comfortably. I am the employee who would stay late without expecting extra compensation. I am the employee who would go above and beyond his job title to do anything the company needs to have done. I am loyal to a fault. But I just don’t have the advanced degree expected by so many who are hiring in this field.

Some of the most idiotic people I’ve ever known are holders of advanced college degrees. Additionally, some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known work in a factory setting. Take my current job at a warehouse in Remington, Ind. I took it out of necessity. Being a freelance writer has its merits. But it can be a feast or famine exercise. I thought when I started at my new job that I would be working with people with no real life goals, people who’ve been in jail, etc. Sure, there are a few there who match those unfortunate stereotypes. But there are also some incredibly decent people and a few incredibly talented people. One in particular (and she knows who she is) is actually one of the most talented, creative, intelligent, true artists I’ve ever known. In some ways she inspired me to write this post. I’m a much MUCH better person for having her as a friend.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Telecommunications. That’s it. If you’re expecting an advanced degree, a certification or any other piece of paper to validate my so-called expertise on any given subject, I’m sorry. If that means that my resume fails your company’s computerized gate-keeper, oh well. Your company’s loss, not mine. You missed the opportunity of a lifetime to add me to your workforce. I have a PhD in life. And I know how to make an impression.

I will push on and eventually get that job one way or another. And when that happens, I will help that company push forward creating a tsunami-sized wake as we pass. Just get out of our way!

Life is an ongoing learning experience. And one of the most important things I have learned is not to judge a book by its cover.

So don’t judge my book by its faded, middle-aged, uncertified cover. Open it up and read. It’s a page turner.

Politics for Profit

We are in a world that is quite extremist and extremism makes more noise. Normality does not sell. – Vicente del Bosque

Now THAT was a fun month. I must admit, I was a little intimidated after my most recent post more than a month ago. I expressed my opinions about guns – opinions with which more than a few people disagreed. One e-mail from someone I don’t know was particularly chilling. It was a veiled threat. I had to think long and hard about my next move. Should I discontinue this blog? Well, NO STINKING WAY! My opinions are mine. This blog is mine. It’s a free country. Onward! 🙂

I also began to think about the state of modern American politics. And frankly, it scares me. Politics has always had it’s share of mud-slinging. As far back as Jefferson and Hamilton (two political ideologues as vehemently opposed as are a modern day Limbaugh and Maddow) people have taken sides about the best political course to steer our country into the future. But there is a big difference today – the rise and domination of political media for profit.

At no time in world history have there been so many sources for information. All one needs to do is turn on their computer to be linked to the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post – both unabashedly biased in their “news” coverage – and a host of other sources. Then there’s Fox News, MSNBC, etc. on television 24 hours a day. It’s very easy these days to pick and choose your information sources based on your (political) beliefs.

Look at it like this. Nobody likes to be wrong. So if someone tells you that a closely held belief of yours is wrong while someone else tells you it’s correct, to whom are you going to gravitate?

A very good way to capture and hold an audience (thus creating incentives for advertisers to shell out $$$) is to tell partisans that they are right and those who think otherwise are wrong. Then reinforce that by publicly putting down any news outlet which says something different than what you’re saying to make sure the people don’t turn to anyone else for “news.” Sound familiar? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Partisan Websites and radio programs have taken to this tactic as well, creating a completely homogeneous community for partisans to immerse themselves in, completely oblivious to any “news” out there that is contrary to what they believe. Does that scare you as much as it does me?

Then there’s the books written by the talking heads in these partisan universes. Limbaugh has published 2 books, Maddow has 1, Hannity, 3; Schultz, 2; and Glenn Beck, well, I lost count. I never trust a “journalist” who has a book to sell.

Beck in particular is an interesting case. So many people have placed so much trust in him. Others think he is the devil personified. I think he’s just laughing his way to the bank. I’ve got news for you all. Beck doesn’t believe half of the stuff that comes out of his own mouth. But it’s making him a rich man. So why stop? Take a look at this video closely. Watch it all the way through and listen to everything Beck is saying. Here is a man who is playing a role and laughing at everyone who both hate and adore him.

Remember the Fairness Doctrine? For people who don’t know what it is, it was an FCC policy which stated that the media must introduce controversial topics to its audience and ensure that all sides of the issue are fairly represented. It was abolished in 1987. Limbaugh appeared on the radio shortly thereafter. It was all downhill from there. But you know what? That policy had been around since 1949 and the country had never really suffered because of it. Plenty of conservatives AND liberals won elections during those years.

So what is the point of all this? My point is that there are a lot of people out there yelling and screaming political ideas at the top of their lungs trying to get your attention in order to earn a buck. Some of them truly believe what they say. Others are in it strictly for the dough. Don’t fall for it! If someone says something contrary to what you believe, don’t label them as a stupid “liberal” or “conservative” then completely disregard them. Tuning others out because they are not saying what you want to hear is idiotic and downright dangerous.

Frankly, I miss the America where people solely had the big three networks and newspapers to inform them. As I said before, PLENTY of people with varying politics were still getting elected. And it was a lot easier to talk to people.

I think a politically diverse America with a wide range of ideas and values makes it a strong society. Openly discussing them in an environment of fairness and understanding makes us even stronger. If America were to become a society where everyone believes the same thing and nobody questions the status quo, it would no longer be America. It would be North Korea.