The Woman Who Would Not Shut Up
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” ~ Doug Larson
“I wish she would shut up,” I thought to myself. I was sitting in a cold, grey hotel conference room with about 20 new coworkers, one of whom loved loved loved the sound of her own voice. At first, I listened intently. But the longer she talked and the more she interrupted others, the more I tuned her out. I envisioned her standing alone in an empty room, shouting into a dark void. I envisioned her opening her mouth and no sound coming out, stomping her feet in frustration, her face flushed a sickly shade of red. I imagined moths and dust spewing from her lips as her eyes widened in shock and wonder. If a God did exist, I thought, he would have struck her mute.
Am I cruel for thinking this? Probably not. The more people talk, the less they seem to have to say, which is one of many reasons why the internet can be so goddamned awful. Anyone can say anything any time they please. There are influencers or content creators or whatever-you-want-to-call-thems' who make a living by saying nothing much consistently and with gusto. They are stuck between having an engaged audience and being forced to come up with something interesting or profound or funny to say. I’ve been writing this blog for about three years now, posting twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays if you haven’t caught on yet), and sometimes I feel like I have nothing important to write about, either. Usually, when that feeling creeps beneath my shirt collar, I try to spin an interesting story out of something mundane, like a woman with short blonde hair and mauve lipstick who would simply not shut up. My not-so-profound realization was that few of us need practice talking and all of us could use some practice listening, myself included.
The woman I’m writing about could be anyone. Her lack of self-awareness about the overuse of her own voice is not especially unique. So many of us talk about everything and nothing, failing to notice when our listeners eyes glaze over. So many of us hemorrhage language, thinking we know more than we do. So many of us think we are right. In a recent podcast with Africa Brooke and his daughter Mikhaila, Jordan Peterson pinpointed exactly how stupid it is to think one is always correct, “Maybe your stupid opinions aren’t right,” he said. “They’re probably not. And are you so sure you’re such a bloody paragon of virtue, that light is shining out every orifice, that everything you think and say is correct and everyone who disabuses you of your notions is evil?” He was being snide, but he’s right. None of us are without fault and all of us could benefit from some virtuous and intent silence.
Listening isn’t always enjoyable, though. Sometimes, people are miserably uninteresting. Sometimes subjects are interminably dull. Sometimes I’d rather climb into a dank underground bunker with a family of rodents than listen to yet another person say words. But listening is one of the kindest things you can do for someone. “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill
I understand the irony of opening this blog by complaining about a loud, obnoxious talker, while simultaneously directing my readers to be better listeners. I fully, wholeheartedly understand. I thought the right way to wrap up this blog might be to give some helpful tips/tricks to become a better listener, but I don’t think that’s useful. I think a better way to end this will be to give you a few pointers on how to determine who or what to listen to. Not all voices need to be heard by you, after all.
If you’re unable to concentrate on anything a person says, maybe don’t listen. They will either bore you to death or bore you to sleep. It’s better to honestly disengage than to dishonestly engage, I think. If you’re unable to concentrate because said person is either painfully boring or obviously wrong, don’t feel bad. But if you’re unable to concentrate because you’re a bad listener and a selfish individual, maybe take a deep look inward and schedule an ayahuasca retreat. And finally, if you’re like the loud woman with short blonde hair and mauve lipstick, consider engaging in sweet, blissful, silence.