Hello. Anyone There?

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, April 2009 – May 2010]
Do you remember when children would make a phone by taking two tin cans and tying them to the opposite ends of some string? I recall doing this in elementary science class. We took two large paper cups or tin cans, punched a hole in the bottom center of each can or cup, then cut about 100 feet of kite string, pulled the string through both cups and tied it down. The key, of course, was to keep the string pulled tight, allowing the sound waves to travel across the string and into the other cup.

As our society has advanced technologically, I cannot help but wonder if our hearing has gotten worse. It seems we have gotten deaf not really listening to one another anymore. Maybe it is because we are used to the fast conversations, instant messaging, shooting things off in emails, and having to read between the lines that we spend more time reacting to something we think someone said rather than what they actually said.
Recently, I have caught myself not listening completely then jumping to the wrong conclusions, only to feel silly in retrospect. Have we really gotten to the place where we cannot be still long enough to listen to each other? Has life gotten so busy that we do not have the time or the inclination to listen? Maybe it is just me, but I rather doubt it, based on all that I see and hear around me.
There is a man who attends my church…an older, grandfatherly type. I adore visiting with him because despite the hundreds of people who are often in the foyer before and after the services, if you are blessed enough to have a conversation with him, he makes you feel as if you are the only one there. His eyes are the softest blue; his arthritic hand clasps yours as you talk, making you believe he is hanging on your every word. He has listening down to an art form. He can leave me feeling as if I am the most interesting person he knows. Yet, as I watch him talk with others, I see the same light in his eyes as he listens to them. His actions remind me of Maya Angelo’s inquiry, “Do your eyes light up when they walk into a room?” It is easy to convince ourselves that we are invisible to the world around us…that our words, actions, and time do not matter. Yet, I wonder how many lives that man has changed by those simple actions?
There are many things I miss in our fast-paced society things that we have discarded too easily. Things like letter writing, penmanship, mending, taking time to share our hearts, and the ability to listen as someone else shares theirs. I mean really listening, not listening as if we were the Louisville slugger with our bat poised to swing, eager to impress with all that we think we know, or listening with some preconceived notion of what the speaking may be going to say. Rather, the kind of listening that engages all our senses, the kind where we look them in the eyes, cradling their hands in ours while tuning out the rest of the world, allowing our hearts to have the conversation… I wonder if we would be slower to judge, slower to assume, slower in making every conversation about us, and more eager to learn something new about them. I have become tired of surface conversations, more interested in heart connections. I wonder, too, if it is easier to tune out others because we have become so good at not even hearing ourselves, afraid that listening to them share their dreams will somehow awaken the giant in us that we are not ready to have to deal with.
I have discovered that it is hard work to find the courage to be still long enough to listen to that inner voice, taking the time to sift through it all, separating the negative noise from the positive in order to reflect anything positive back to the rest of the world. It requires tenacity to make the tough decisions, and be open to “pruning off” those things that are keeping our dreams tethered to the ground. It is the difference between living life with our eyes, ears and hearts open or choosing to walk through it with them closed, trying to avoid getting hurt or failing. There is something about standing at “that” crossroad, staring “that” decision down, then choosing to be more purposeful that carries a brilliance all its own.
I have made the effort to “stop the unnecessary noise” in my life. I have also gotten better about being still and allowing the silence to wash over me in order for me to be able to hear what my own heart is saying, allowing my mind to be more available for conversations from others. Yet, it is a daily decision to do so and does not yet come easily.
As a young child, I learned a memory verse in Sunday school, one whose simple message I still love. “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and excellent think on these things.” This simple verse has helped me as I have tried to climb out of the mire of the negative noise that can take over.  Helping me to filter and shift out what noise matters and what noise does not.
I have also made the commitment to bring back some of the words that I think have been missing from American’s vocabulary words like BRILLIANT, GREATNESS, AMAZING. I have noticed that when I use them to offer a description to others about themselves or their work, they are uncomfortable with them. Yet I choose to let them just sit with those words in an effort to get reacquainted.
I have come to label myself as a “Brilliantologist.” I define it as, someone who studies all things brilliant. I see it every day in a million ways. Like in the new Artist, I just came across who inspires me creatively. The author whose words can take me to another place while offering me the mental vacation needed for re-fueling. Then there is the chef at the farm, who blew us all away this week with one masterful creation leaving all our senses satisfied. The young mom I saw in the park this week, down on her knees on the wet ground looking into her young daughter’s eyes as she tried to understand what the little girl was so upset about. And my own eighteen-year-old son who is out on the lawn, even as I write, working with his puppy, teaching him the importance of listening. Just as that little puppy is taught, we too, need to be reminded of its importance. I do not want to be so busy that I fail to hear the heart of those that I love who have made the effort to share a part of their heart with me.
Therefore, this week I got out the old cans and string and made myself a phone. It is a visual reminder that hangs in my office, reminding me to slow myself down and hand the other end of the line to someone, allowing their words to travel down the string and into my waiting ear while I keep the line pulled tight.

  1. Cyndarella says:

    This is a "brilliant" statement on listening! Active listening is an art that is learned. If I could learn the art I would have many many friends. People love to know you are listening to them. Thank you for the blog.

  2. Reba says:

    What a great blog, Rene! And so timely. I was just thinking on that same verse this week and making a conscious effort to think of all the things that I felt were true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. As I did I could feel myself rising above the mundane useless things that sometimes weighs us down. I felt my spirit lifting and before I knew it, I felt like putting music on the stereo. It was amazing how the thought suddenly occurred to me that "there is so much to think of that is good and so much time has been wasted!" I am making an effort to keep those thoughts foremost in my mind so that as noise-makers come my way I do not let them steal my thoughts. Thanks for the encouragement that you have given.

  3. Carrie says:

    So true. As a music teacher I am always saying ,"Are you listening to what I am saying?" "Are you listening to what you are playing? What others are playing?" I probably say "listen" 100 times a week! However, often times, it is I who is guilty of not listening. I think we are so use to half-listening that we forget to truly hear.

  4. Gary says:

    This is a very profound and timely Bloggie Rene’, and you hit several "nails" on the head. I am also keenly aware when someone listens, and I find I must also practice the art of listening, as it is not a passive mental activity. It feels very fullfilling to be "engaged" in conversation, and unfortunately that doesn’t happen often.
    I also find fault with technology in the demise of interpersonal skills, which is rampant in our culture, and I place primary blame on tee vee. Most people aren’t used to reading and thinking and developing an idea or opinion. Viewers of tee vee are used to being "told", and what passes as conversation these days is more like two people swapping disconnected statements about the same subject, with one thinking of what to say next while the other is talking, instead of actually listening. It’s sad.
    On a brighter note, it is so refreshing and gives such a feeling of connection, when we do encounter a person like the Gentleman you describe, and we remember those moments, and look froward to seeing them again. Like a lone Daisy in a field of dry grass, those people look positively beautiful.
    GodSpeed to Y’all…
    in Tampa

    Very well said Gary.. see I am listening :)… and learning.

  5. Rene, you have done it again! This must be ‘hit home’ week. I started working intently on this very process in the last few weeks! And I am really enjoying listening to others. I have to catch myself when I want to interject my thoughts….way too much (old habit). It sure takes practise but I love the results. I even made a new friend and reconnected to an old one.
    This was a wonderful post and I loved every word. Thanks for sharing what and how you feel!

  6. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this timely and truth-filled post, Rene.

    It really does make such a difference when we take time to stop and really listen to one another.

    Oh, but that pruning part … that’s not so much fun, necessary but not fun 😉 . You are the second voice to speak that word this week … I must be in for it soon!

    And now, I’m off to make one of those phones, I’ll let my girlies play with it for a while and then find a place to put it as a reminder for myself. Thank you for the great idea.

    Bless you,
    Catherine 🙂

  7. Debbie says:

    What an excellent blog…I have been thinking some of these same thoughts myself….it gets harder and harder to feel "heard" these days. Thanks for saying it all so well.

  8. carla says:

    Your description of the gentlemen from your church, brings back such lovely memories of my dear wonderful late Aunt Dorothy. She was such a wonderful active listener, always making each one of us so special when having a conversation with her. She was also a letter writer. I treasure my saved correspondance with her.
    Thank you for the memory of her today.
    Active listening, letter writing, and better penmanships are all techniques that I am trying to better in myself, and I definitely need the reminder.
    Thank you.

  9. Tammie says:

    As always your blog leaves me inspired.
    I worked with young children for years and the magic that made it work was in believing in them. Children, and people in general, will live up to what you say of them. If you tell a child he/she is brilliant and smart and funny and wonderful…they are. (Unfortunately this works in reverse as well.)
    I can’t remember how many times I’ve told a parent that would be explaining to me how "bad" their child is… to be careful with what they say. The child will live up to it. So what is the worse that can happen when you tell a child he/she is brilliant and smart? There is no worse scenario there.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  10. Raynita says:

    True, so very true:) My daughter and I have been discussing about how people can no longer "sit still". What’s up with this? We find that it is not only a problem for children, but adults as well. How can we listen to others or even be heard ourselves if we can’t be still? Like your son training his puppy, it takes discipline, something that seems to be lost in this time. Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God." How can we notice the "awesomeness" as we run through life?

  11. KDL says:

    I know what you mean, I watch people and it has become less of an art and more of a battle. Most people don’t really listen to what is being said, rather they prepare a rebuttal or redirect the conversation to something more pertinent to their lives. Conversation is something we are losing as a society. It’s being replaced with an electronic abbreviation. You’re right, text messages and emails have isolated us from the people we need. God created us for fellowship with others as well as with Him. These relationships are the heart and soul of neighbors and families. Society is becoming addicted to the ability to edit and prepare a conversation rather than to "perform live" with those around us. As a terribly shy person I have fought to stay in the mix, but it’s hard. I’ve tried to overcome my short comings with humor, that’s sometimes even worse. It’s much easier to resort to a well prepared email or text message.

  12. Nancy says:

    How right you are, most people don’t take the time to really listen, they are too interested in talking about themselves. My husband and I make it a practice to really listen to each other and other people. If one of us slips, the other one reminds.

  13. Susan Holland says:

    AMEN. Thanks for your astute real-time rendering of that great part of Phillipians and the quote also from Maya Anjelou. You rang some Christmas Bells, sister! Susan

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