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Listening Scarce Commodity

Updated on January 15, 2017
Trevor Noah, host of the American talk show, The Daily Show is paid to listen.
Trevor Noah, host of the American talk show, The Daily Show is paid to listen. | Source

Vacations Family Doesn't Listen

Year-end holidays bring friends and family together in more concentrated numbers compared to the rest of the year. It is a time for sharing food, love and also conversation.

The conversation part is more difficult because listening is in short supply even for loved ones.

It is common in North America and Europe, where people live in high rise buildings, for neighbours to complain about noise. They also call law enforcement when they suspect domestic violence. There might be no fighting at all, just a competition of voices because nobody wants to listen.

You do not listen.

You are not listening.

He does not listen to me.

Everybody must listen to her.

Mobile phones contribute to the inability to listen to people around us, because we prefer connecting to faceless online friends.
Mobile phones contribute to the inability to listen to people around us, because we prefer connecting to faceless online friends. | Source

People do not listen because human beings are inherently selfish. The world revolves around the individual and the word me.

We can even elongate this a bit and trace selfishness to infancy, where the baby bites the breast: Don’t bite me, scolds the mother.

The baby was safe and warm in the womb and totally reliant on the mother, but it has its own personality now, which includes selfishness and the audacity to eat more milk from the breast, literally biting more than it can chew.

Because of that selfishness, most people think they are right and want to be praised or worshipped for their opinions. People react differently when they are ignored, because not listening is tantamount to being ignored.

Some interpret it as disrespect. Others as undermining of authority. Couples might interpret it as the end of the road, when love hits a cul-de-sac.

Most people would indicate that they have excellent communication skills. Americans, and people in general, love to hear themselves talk. Basically, all of us want to be heard! The question is, with all the people talking, who is really listening to what is actually being said?

Rationing Listening

Listening is not in a vacuum. Somebody says something. Another one responds in agreement or disagreement. It is a relay. Run a little bit, give the baton to the next athlete, third athlete does the same until the finishing line when the runners bag Olympic Gold for their country.

An audience is an integral part of civilized society. People who talk to themselves are ostracised because society regards them as insane, they have lost their marbles or gone crazy, as Americans put it.

Maybe a stopwatch could be ideal to force family members or friends to listen to each other. For dramatic effect, it must be a traditional stop watch, not the digital one on your phone.

Everybody must speak for one minute. Responses are also allocated the same time. This will force people to do some gardening before they speak, prune some roses, water seedlings and pull out weeds.

The problem in using a stop watch is getting an impartial referee. We cannot trust speakers to monitor their one minute. They are selfish in nature. Choosing someone to monitor the stop watch will also make it a formal debate.

There must be a way, but the point is that some mechanism should be used because people do not listen. That is why we have a phrase like a heated debate.

Friends and Listening

Friends are supposed to love, support and comfort each other. This involves a lot of listening and the friendship is fractured once that diminishes.

Nature took care of that because opposites attract. Pretty girls have friends the world does not call attractive. Rich people have best friends with a smaller bank balance than themselves.

Yes, it is a presumption, a hypothesis. It cannot be supported by objective data collected over a period of time, but it happens. You also have examples of friendships that worked because of inequality.

You might argue that class is important as in, birds of a feather flock together, they do not have the same body or plumage. The movie Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash played characters of rich Beverly Hills kids, but they were still not equal.

Triangle Friendship

That is why friendships that have three members last longer because of the listening factor. Somebody must listen, something which is difficult with two best friends. A third friend is usually neutral. She is like a trampoline.

The trampoline understands that her friends are selfish. Both of them do not care about the trampoline, how she feels, her aspirations, frustrations and financial situation. They are too busy using the trampoline to back-bite each other.

The trampoline is usually less attractive, quiet and enjoys its own company.

Listening Hierarchy

There is absolutely nothing to be alarmed about because there is some listening in the world but it is based on a hierarchy. We listen to the boss because we have no option. We must carry orders, instructions, execute company policies and be civil to co-workers.

Disobeying the boss is not an option because nobody wants to be dragged into a disciplinary hearing. Bosses therefore are fortunate beings because the system guarantees them listeners.

Men are also guaranteed listeners in their capacity as politicians, bosses, husbands and sons. Certain cultures and religions do not entertain women who argue with men. Western women find this inacceptable because they think their constitutions guarantee them equality with men.

That might be so, but what happens behind closed doors is another matter. There is a party going on somewhere in Chicago or Toronto where women are in one corner and men in another.

Women who are still ruled by religion and culture are better off because they know the real deal: that they must and will always listen to men.

A Suitable Boy, a novel by Vikram Seth has a Muslim family that adheres to strict purdah.

The word "purdah" comes from the Hindu word meaning curtain or veil. Purdah is a complex set of rules, followed in some Muslim and Hindu societies, which restrict a woman's movements both in the outside world and within her own home. Meant to separate the family as a unit from those outside the family, purdah requires a woman to isolate herself from those who are not in her immediate family by veiling her body and face or sitting behind screens or curtains.

Read more:


Social Networking

The internet has solved the listening dilemma because it offers a platter of platforms where people who were previously ignored can be heard. They can vent their feelings as much as they want because the internet is open 24 hours and does not close for bank holidays and religion.

One person can click on their blog or Twitter feed. They may be lucky and get a thousand hits a day. If that happens, then somebody is listening.

YouTube is even better for two reasons:

  1. Younger people are the biggest consumer of online content especially videos

  2. YouTube has more traffic because of humans and their egocentric nature. They love themselves. That is why they stand in front of the camera, which projects them to the world. Cellphones enable us to take a selfie, the highest form of self appreciation.

Listening Dates

Friendship rules will have to change now that friendship and the family have gone global and anonymous. We must be very specific about listening and it should be upfront like doing lunch.

We need to know who is buying. Friends sometimes prefer to go Dutch when going to restaurants. Listening etiquette could be something like this:

  • Can we have dinner? I will pay for the meal and it will be a listening date. I want to resign and start my own business. I will do most of the talking and you can only ask questions related to what I will tell you.

  • I will listen to your problems at our next listening date.

It sounds harsh but what is the alternative? You can ask your social networking friends for advice I suppose.

Happy listening!


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