I hate it when I’m talking and it becomes clear after about three and a half words that the other person isn’t listening. Sometimes you can just see it in their eyes, or hear it in the vague way they mumble, “M-hmm, yeah.” Other times they make it more obvious: cutting you off mid-sentence to say something to someone else, suddenly standing up and walking away, or pulling out their phone and starting a text message. It’s hard even to get angry at that point–mostly I just feel sorry for the other person having to tolerate my boring soliloquies at all.
What really makes me mad is when I find myself not listening when other people are talking to me. If it hurts my feelings to be treated like a mildly aggravating background drone, why on earth am I treating other people exactly that way? It takes such a huge quantity of energy to listen, and not just to listen, but to listen and care. It bears remembering: words are the closest we can get to the inner workings of another person’s mind and even (sometimes) heart. They’re more than just noise, they’re the other person’s expression of what’s going on inside, and an attempt to share that. Granted, sometimes you’d rather they didn’t share, and there are some thoughts that should probably be kept hidden. Regardless, in some way, the words we speak are gifts (part of that self-gift that’s the backbone of community) to those around us, and that demands response.
So for crying out loud, people: pay attention.