Tag Archives: listening

Image, culture, laziness, and habit

Did you read my November 25 post “I’m sorry, but it’s over?”  I talked about my bad habit of softening statements rather than speaking directly and confidently but politely.  Did you also read my November 22 post “Listening?”  Therein, I talked about a combination of arrogance, lack of trust, and obsessive-compulsive disorder that interferes with my listening skills.

Are the two writings contradictory?  If I was so deferential to people in daily speech, how could I also be not at all deferential to people when it comes to listening to them?  I think the two situations are as different as apples and oranges.  But, let’s analyze the question to be sure.  Is there perhaps a common thread that weaves the two problems together?

Perhaps the underlying thread is false pride, or an obsession with image.  This makes sense regarding poor listening skills.  I didn’t want to listen to others because being right all the time was part of my image, my self-esteem, and pride.  It also makes sense regarding deferential phrases in speech.  Softening statements with phrases like “I’m sorry,” “maybe later,” or “yeah, maybe” is an attempt to protect my image.

Think of someone saying, “No, I’ll get the check” after a restaurant meal, while they are simultaneously thinking, “Oh shit, this is going to be expensive, and I don’t like paying.”  This happens a lot among certain ethnic groups, including the group with which my parents identified.  They took this to sick extremes, eventually avoiding most social engagements because they could neither afford to pay for everyone nor would swallow their pride enough to split the bill with others.

This is the same kind of foolish pride that brought me to say “I’m sorry, but it’s over,” instead of “I’m ending this meaningless relationship.”  It is also the same foolish pride that led me to insist I knew there was no office supply store instead of listening to others.

It is clear I should stop speaking deferentially and start listening.  Why is it so difficult?  Laziness and habit.  It takes affirmative mental energy to turn my bad habits into good habits, to stop and remind myself to really listen, and to think very carefully before saying some mindless deferential thing.

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Listening 

Yesterday I learned, somewhat to my surprise, that I have a deeply-ingrained bad habit of not listening.  In fact, it’s more than that.  It’s really a combination of arrogance, unwillingness to trust others, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and under-developed listening skills.

Our child needed one more thing to run tests on a science project. TL checked for it on Amazon and found it only sold in bulk and was unable to ship quickly. Yesterday, when out shopping, TL suggested we go to the office supply store on our way home. I told TL, “No, there is no office supply store in this town, we will have to order it from Amazon.”  She disagreed, insisting that she knew there was a local store.  Without even thinking much about it, I mindlessly repeated my opinion that there was no such store nearby.  She disagreed again.  We repeated the exchange, talking past each other a third time, and perhaps a fourth.  Ultimately, she got angry and sad about my failure to believe that she knew what she was talking about, to listen. We drove to where she thought there was an office supply store, it turned out she was right, and I apologized for not listening.

I tried to deconstruct the event to figure out what I had done.  I tried to empathize.  I found an analogy.  It reminded me of all the times I felt my parents don’t listen to me.  I explain the same things to them again and again.  Each time they act as if they had never heard it before.  Just today I spoke with them on the phone.  To my frustration, I heard, “We were surprised you’re moving in a few months.”  I had told them many times over the course of the past two years when we would be moving. Then my father said, “so, you’re really retiring in a few years.” I had explained my career timing to them again and again over the past 17 years.

Today I realized that they hear these things each time, but they let them go in one ear and out the other.  I ask them to do things, like remember that we are Jewish.  They act as if I hadn’t said anything.  I answer their questions. They ask the same questions next time we talk, as though we had never discussed it before.  Perhaps they don’t believe what I say.  Perhaps they don’t want to believe what I say.

In my parents’ case and in my case, there may be similar themes that compound these poor listening skills.  I suspect arrogance has a role.  When I am so very certain of my knowledge, I feel no need to listen to new information from any source.  Of course, this is a terrible impediment to learning and growth.  I have to remind myself, daily, of how much I don’t know.  I also have to remind myself that it’s OK to not know everything.  Just now, as I write this, I realize I may have a bit of fear with regard to admitting ignorance.  I often use knowledge as a big ingredient in my self-esteem box.  So, I feel a threat to my self-esteem when I have to admit ignorance.  I need to regularly recall that the quest for knowledge is built on ignorance, not on omniscience.

There’s also perhaps an element of unwillingness to trust other people.  I’m not sure where I got that tendency.  I think I observed it in my mother.  I think of her as being extremely untrusting.  I think I became that way too.

Then there’s my obsessive-compulsive tendency, which B and others identified in me.  When I start a course of action or plan or begin with a particular opinion about something, it is extremely difficult for my to change gears. I am inflexible.  I know this about myself, and I have done a lot to become more flexible.  I often remind myself that I do not have to do everything every day.  It’s a struggle, but I do see progress.  But, today, I realize the same inflexibility that makes it difficult for me to break routines also makes it difficult to listen to ideas that counter a thought I am already pursuing.

In sum, improving my listening skills takes continued practice.  It also takes remembering that it’s OK to learn from others and remembering to be flexible.  Seeing how it makes me feel when my parents fail to listen will hopefully help me remember to not inflict that treatment on TL or others myself.

TL: “Let go or be dragged.”

I’m being a bit of a dork today, procrastinating working on this homework.

So, there is a very old song that I have always, always loved. You’re going to laugh. But it’s Little River Band’s “Time for a cool change.” You see I love the water, I’ve always LOVED the water. Whether it is kayaking, sailing, or SCUBA, I just feel so alive on or in the water. So, after feeling so wonderful after yesterdays’ little kayak trip, I went to listen to my song and it was streaming some quotes, there were many good ones, but one really stopped me in my thoughts for a moment. I do love a good quote. So, I will share two of my old favorites and the one that really caught my eye today.

  1. Let go or be dragged
  2. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful
  3. The most difficult phase of life is not when no one understands you; it is when you don’t understand yourself

So, on the first quote, it may not exactly be what you are thinking. I don’t know. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother was mentally ill and addicted to prescription drugs. She used to change words, and change history to manipulate others to her cause, that she was always the victim to be pitied. I put myself through college with no help from family and was very proud of that fact. My parents lost our home when I was seven years old to a bankruptcy and proceeded to be evicted from just about every home we ever lived in thereafter. While I was in college, Mom went around telling people that she had sold our family home and put herself into a cheap, dark, dreary apartment so she could pay for my college. That is just one of so many examples. So, when I feel that someone has twisted words, manipulated the truth, or changed history to fit their own narrative, OH BOY do I have hard time letting that go. Not just when it happens to me, but when I see it happen to others. So, the “let go or be dragged” is to remind me that I don’t have to fight every battle, every cause is not mine to resolve. So, much easier said than done.

On the second quote, it is just a reminder that perfection is its own worst enemy. That we have to smell the flowers on our journey forward.

On the third quote, that was a new one to me today. It really plays into the first quote in a way. I am focusing on learning again who I am, who I want to be, how I want to live life now and in the future. I need to not waste so much time on trying to be understood, as I much as I need to spend time understanding myself. It was a very good reminder!

Ok, now I need a quote about not procrastinating with my homework. I better get to it. I hope all of you have a beautiful day!

TL xx