The Lost Art of Listening

This little guy's on high alert. I'm standing nearby, but he's not afraid. Instead, he's just...paying attention. It would appear he is super tuned in to his surroundings. 

We could learn from him.

Has anyone else noticed lately that, in our increasingly tech-busy world, many of us have forgotten how to stop and listen? I can't tell you how many times I've given up on trying to converse with people - friends and family included - who are so keyed up and lost in their own worlds that it seems they are incapable of actually just listening to anyone else.

I take some of the responsibility. It's fair that eyes glaze over when I start to talk about my books or the screenplay I'm trying to figure out what to do with. But I give myself some credit. When I see this start to happen, I steer the conversation elsewhere. But a part of me feels lost, like an essential part of my soul has just been, well, washed over. 

I get that. I get that not all of us are interested in everything others have to say. But I want to raise a call to those whose busy lives have them on such high levels of stress and anxiety that they simply can't listen at all. These are the folks who cut you off in mid-sentence with a comment that's entirely off topic. These are the folks who can't seem to make eye contact, whose minds are anxiously rhyming off the grocery list, in silence, while your voice fades into oblivion.

This is the thing. It's okay if folks are not interested in what others have to say. But I'm worried about that constant detachment, that loss of personal connection that I see happening all around me. That endless me-me-me-life-is-all-about-me vibe that many of us (yes, I'm as guilty as anyone) constantly project. I challenge you to take an active stance. Stop and really listen - to your partner, to your friend, to your children. To nature. To the wind in the trees, to the leaves crunching under your toes, to your cat when he purrs. To yourself - but not to the endless to-do list. To your soul.

I am listening to the ocean here. I swear.



I had the great pleasure of sitting down with an old high-school friend about a month ago. I got in trouble when I got home because my old friend and I met for coffee and three hours zipped by in what seemed like an instant. My guy was less than impressed. I should have texted, he said. He was right, I should have. My bad. At the same time, I was so touched that my friend (I'm talking about you, Crystal!) seemed genuinely interested in me and my story - about the way my life had gone since high school, about the Drifters books, about life - that I actually did not want to break the spell and pick up my phone. She actually tilted her head in and focused her gaze on me. She listened, actively, in a way that it seemed nobody has listened to me for a very long time. (Although it was pretty awesome to have Steve's sister around last summer - that was a special time - I miss you and Mike, Wendy!). 

My point is that listening is an active pursuit. It's a practised art that is quickly becoming lost and forgotten. I hope I gave Crystal the same focus and attention she honoured me with. She deserved it.

I work part-time at the local performing arts theatre in town, the Harbourfront Theatre. I am one of those folks who helps you select seats and sells you tickets to your favorite shows. Box office. Yup. I took the job to help give me the freedom to write. It allows me gas and coffee money while the Drifters books work their magic (and they are. It's surreal). In the two years I've been there, I've realized some very key points. One, regardless of the low pay, I LOVE working there. Two, it's because of the people. The folks I work with rock. Management lets me see shows I would not otherwise be able to see. And the clients who purchase tickets? Read on...

Last Saturday a sweet, lovely woman came by. She was likely in her late seventies or early eighties, white hair, a gentle countenance, a smile that lit up the room. For whatever reason, she stayed to chat for a few moments. She told us (Sarah, my box office crony that day, is a wonderful listener) about a time when she was not yet nineteen, pregnant and married only for about nine months, when her husband was in a devastating car accident. This gal, with $ 2 in her pocket, found herself miscarrying her baby during a flight to Halifax on a service plane while her husband fought for his life alongside. The story was tragic - two other occupants of the car were killed. The woman told Sarah and I that she has never forgotten those boys. 

Why did this story emerge after the woman bought tickets at a box office? To two strangers? I don't know. But I get those stories from clients all the time. Some stay until the next person comes along to purchase tickets, and their lives unfold before me. Some are tragic and some are tender and loving. They even come through the phone. One lady a few summers ago broke down in tears when I confirmed her account by saying her husband's name. He had passed away three weeks earlier. She told me all about him. She needed to. The woman in the first story lost her husband two years ago. He survived that long-ago accident, spent thirteen days in a coma and three months in the Halifax hospital. They went on to have a large family, and she misses him every day.

I cherish my box office job because it is a gateway to people I would otherwise never get to meet, whose lives are infinitely interesting. Who sometimes need a stranger with kind eyes to let them tell their story. To listen.

The next time you find yourself face to face with someone who needs to talk - let them. Do away with that grocery list for now, and what tomorrow may bring. Make yourself be present in the moment - in the moment! - and focus your eyes on the person who is speaking. Quiet your mind. Be present.


And you will be rewarded, because your heart will be full. You are being given a gift - someone's trust.

I no longer take good listeners for granted. And I promise to try harder to be a good listener myself.

Now it's your turn.