Dear Neighbor: Kim Porter: Listening/hearing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2024

By Kim Porter

I had a coach that used to say, “Porter, you don’t listen, you just hear.” I, of course, thought that was a contradiction. If you hear, you are listening. Right? Then I had children. Oh goodness, was I surprised. They were just like me. And that wasn’t healthy.

My kids would hear me. I would hear the coach. I would hear the teacher — but I didn’t listen, comprehend, engage, communicate, have a dialogue, even if it was nodding, smiling or wondering. As the old saying goes — in one ear, out the other. Many times, it wouldn’t even get in the ear.

Something seems really lost when you experience what I did a few months past. I was on the couch, between two grandchildren. I was hoping for a conversation. Both were talking, well, not really talking. They were texting each other. One would giggle, then the other would laugh. Once one of them honestly said something with their mouth and tongue — the other was silent but in their world they communicated. That was communication in the 21st century.

I am not sure my generation is any better. Not long ago, I was watching a favorite TV show and commenting on it. My father-in-law was telling me about his latest trip. And my spouse was texting her sister and saying something aloud. And all of this was in the same room. And amazingly enough we heard each other and gave some type of response. That also is 21st century communication.

Both of these examples must go on in others lives, but they are beginning to bother me as I try to dialogue with others. I know I need to think this through.

I must ask, “why am I the same way as my grandchildren?” They seem to listen just to respond. Shouldn’t I be listening to understand? Shouldn’t I have muted the TV so he could share his experiences with me? Shouldn’t I try to understand what was so important about two sisters sharing a story?

I had a speech teacher say that you should count to 5 before you respond to someone’s thought/question. Her point was simple — understanding someone who is engaging you is a compliment to them. It shows you are taking them seriously.

My spouse is a listener. She nods, smiles and her eyes are engaging when communicating. She doesn’t interrupt and overwhelm you with her own experiences.

She genuinely listens to understand, not to respond.

Hopefully, I too will begin to understand more, before I respond.

“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.