Speaking up for the disappearing art of listening

Columnist Peter Leith is 91 and describes himself as “half-deaf and half-blind”. But he sees and hears a lot and considers much that many of us overlook – or choose not to hear.


One thing we can all learn from losing our hearing as we age is how poorly, and infrequently, we listen. 

From the time we leave school or university, we devote less and less time to listening and more and more time to competing for and then hanging on to, our chance to speak.

“Yes but” usually precedes a statement from us which, frequently, bears little or no relationship to what the previous speaker said. 

Even people who would be absolutely mortified at being thought to be rude or unkind have little hesitation in trampling over other people’s conversations like the cavalry of Genghis Khan!

In the scouts and guides, we would do an exercise called “the message”.

A short message would be whispered to a child at one end of a line, then whispered from ear to ear, down the line. The child at the end of the line was asked to repeat the message that he or she had received. It never even closely resembled the original message.

So much for listening!

What continually surprises me is the ease with which many people switch from one subject to a completely different one without pausing to breathe or giving any apparent thought to continuity. 

If you are still trying to ‘decode’ one message, it is very confusing to be hit with another, entirely different one.

Sadly, you begin to learn that many people are not much concerned with whether you actually hear and understand what they said, just as long as you seem to be listening to them.

Being deaf teaches you that there is little connection between speaking and listening.

Are you a good listener? Do you agree with Peter that it is becoming a lost art? Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to [email protected] and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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Written by Peter Leith

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