The Silence of Listening

    “The word ‘listen’ has the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”  ~  Alfred Brendel


          How many times have we barked the word “Listen!” in a plea to be heard, silencing the chaos that supposedly serves as conversation, but is really a soliloquy?  And how many times have we delivered our own monologues with little thought of the person listening?

          Austrian pianist, poet, and author, Alfred Brendel’s observation that the word ‘listen’ has the same letters as the word ‘silent’” says volumes. In order to listen we have to be silent. Not waiting our turn to talk and take centre stage but giving the rostrum to another, and actually hearing what they have to say. In silence we can hear, but the silence has to be one that not only silences the tongue but quiets the mind.

          I practice listening. It is not easy.  Ernest Hemmingway’s advice to “listen completely when people talk” sounds simple—but his addition that “most people never listen” is unfortunately not merely the surveillance of a curmudgeon, but the truth of a scribe. Practicing listening takes patience but it is rewarded ten-fold. I am starting to get beyond just practicing and incorporating “listening” as a something that comes naturally, something I do not have to think about, and something that adds to  my body of knowledge.

          As a writer, I have at my fingertips (quite literally) the ability to be heard, and that is why I write. I am not a particularly effective speaker—one liners are my speciality, but scratch the surface and you will find a tongue-tied scribbler. I have on occasion tried and failed to enter conversations—perhaps my entry into the fray is not passionate enough, loud enough, or, and this could be the whole crux of the problem, interesting enough.

          Writing gives one the chance to silent conversation and finally be heard (to an extent—I realize you can always stop reading me in mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, or even after the very first sentence—but I try not to think about that).  I can focus when I write about a topic—my mind is organized in such a way that saying what I mean, sharing what I know, and sharing the knowledge of others is not difficult when I put words on a page.  But when I open my mouth, many times my brain shuts down—it seems to me I have a flap that opens when I write and closes when I talk. So it behooves me to be a good listener as I am not a good verbal storyteller.

          Silence is also something I cherish. I have never been able to understand news writers who work in a noisy environment—the few times I have worked at the newspaper office have been enlightening but certainly not my creative best. Even when I worked as a full time reporter, I wrote my articles in a corner of my home office (also known as my dining room), sometimes with a toddler at my side—but mostly when the rest of the household was asleep or out. As I write this, my youngest son is asleep upstairs and my husband is out—there is no radio or television on, and all I hear is the reassuring hum of my refrigerator (reassuring, because if there is no hum, it is not working—and that is not conducive to writing).

          Chaos reigns in all of our lives. Silence is the cure. Listening is also an antidote to chaos, because by listening, you are silencing your demons and opening yourself up to something new, something worthwhile, and something you might not have discovered with your mouth open.

          Listen. Silent. They both have the same letters. Listening to silence, a/k/a meditation is another way to “get in touch with ourselves”—certainly a mantra of the 21st century. But think about it—in silence you get to listen to yourself, and though sometimes I bore myself silly—other times I figure out a new way of looking at things.  A way I would not have discovered if I had not stopped to listen in silence.

          I will end with this quote attributed to that sage of all wisdom, wearer of red suspenders, and really old guy, Larry King: “I’ve never learned a thing while my mouth was moving.”

Published in: on January 20, 2014 at 1:47 pm  Comments (47)  
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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good Morning LouAnn. I hear you.

  2. You have inspired me to chew longer and listen harder…..

  3. Love this post, LouAnn. So true, all of it!

    • thanks Cathy – though I am sure Larry King might not be so fond of my description of him!

  4. Very interesting about listen same letters as silent…Sometimes I just crave silence… and the click of the converter to shut off one of the most intrusive of devices… the television, brings such a relief…. And the point about ‘really’ listening is such an important one… I read one time that when another person is talking we only hear a portion of what they’re saying because indeed we are formulating in our mind what ‘we’ want to say… But I try to catch myself and truly listen to what the other person is saying… . Diane

  5. I love writing in silence. The world has too many distractions and it’s nice to tune them out when I can.

  6. Quieting the mind to truly listen, especially to oneself, is difficult.

    Tongue tide scribbler– LouAnn this is perfect. Exactly how I feel. My thoughts are always garbled when I speak.

    • That is why I generally stick to one liners–I can usually get them out before my mind locks shut

      • I stick to no liners. Haa

      • I should probably do the same

      • Doubt that.

  7. “And how many times have we delivered our own monologues with little thought of the person listening?” I never thought of that, it’s sort of embarrassing!

  8. I wonder if most writers are tongue-tied. I know I am , too. I can always express myself better in written form.
    This made me think of “listening” to all my blog friends, too. Lately I have just been skimming through the Reader and as I backtrack, I notice I am missing some good posts. Guess I am just getting lazy….after all there was a reason I decided to “follow” the writers I have chosen. Thanks for reminding me to slow down and pay more attention!

    • I know what you mean–and skimming is not all that satisfying–but it is better than nothing when we are busy!

  9. Wonderful observations, LouAnn. A very profound post indeed, and certainly food for much thought.

  10. In grad school, I had to take two semesters of ‘active listening’ – those classes along with a couple of ethics classes, have stayed with me longer than all others.

    • In grad school–I would have been pleased to take those courses rather than whatever it was that I took

      • Oh there were others for sure – definitely forgettable in my book, statistics immediately comes to mind… 😉

      • I had to take stats too– a nightmare I tell you–a nightmare–ha ha

      • It was one of the many banes of my existence. 😉

      • I was so proud to pass it–I had to take it in summer school as it was a prerequisite for a new graduate course–but I only had to take it and pass it–I did not need the grade–I just needed to pass it (thank goodness) as I already had my degree–what a lovely summer that was

      • You were SO lucky…I had to get a B or was torture.

      • thank goodness I did not have to take it as a graduate course–because as you know you did not get the course unless you got at least a B

      • exactly!

  11. I’m going to tell my youngest about listen/silent.. she has trouble with both. I come from a family of quiet people and have married into a family of talkers. It’s an unquiet adjustment. We’re still all working on it.

    • I am the only quiet one in my family, so I know firsthand whereof you speak

  12. What a great observation that silent and listen are made up of exactly the same letters. Like you, I find that my words come out naturally when I’m writing them but when I open my mouth, they often fail me (and usually during times I can least afford for them to fail… go figure). I *think* I’m good at listening but it’s definitely a work in progress to really listen to someone without letting judgment or internal monologues bubble up.

    • it is difficult to listen sometimes–especially maybe when we really should

  13. Super blog. I listened to you all the way through. I too enjoy silence.

  14. Silence is the answer to chaos…very astute observations Lou. Listening, for me is a work in progress.

  15. Goes hand-in-hand with the importance of enjoying solitude periodically. Enjoyed this post!

  16. I listened to what you said and now I am listening to the silence. It is beautiful and calms my soul :).

  17. That’s an interesting bit of trivia that both words have the same letters! Sometimes I have something screaming in my head and I want to interrupt so badly I have a hard time listening. I have been working hard on improving my listenting skills.
    Writing has been a great outlet for me, too.

    • I know, sometimes we are bursting with something that is relevant to the conversation and waiting just about kills us!

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