Yesterday afternoon, my daughter and I were having lunch at a nearby cafe. The whole place was bustling, people eager to grab a quick sandwich or salad and soup. It was unusually cold in the desert so most of the patrons chose to dine inside. I grabbed a table for two and as we waited for our lunch, my ears gravitated toward the table next to me.

Two men and three women were huddled close together eating their salads and drinking iced tea. It wasn’t my intent to eavesdrop, but my eyes and ears kept shifting toward the loud voice of one of the men sitting at the table. He kept talking and from the animated expression on his face he wanted to convey his story. I caught one of the women trying to have a dialogue with him, but as soon as she raised her voice to interject her words, he overpowered the conversation. For the next twenty minutes, it appeared this man thought he was in play, delivering his Oscar winning, one act soliloquy performance. The others at the table had such blank stares, their eyes kept shifting to their food and in-between, I would hear polite laughter, the awkwardness of the sounds bounced among all of them.

I felt particularly embarassed for him and sad for the others who had to endure his conversation with himself. Witnessing this one sided conversation led me to question my own listening skills. How much do we listen to others? How much do we listen to ourselves? I think we all would like to believe we are good listeners, but I wonder really how many of us really “listen” in the truest sense.  I know that  I’m not particularly good at listening to myself because I’ve realized I am like the man at the cafe. I am always moving, multi-tasking, crossing out my to-do lists and running all those errands that absolutely “need” to get done. When I am not doing those things, I’m plugged into some electronic device, either my computer, phone or ipod. I suspect I am scared of listening to the silence in my own head.

As I ate my lunch, I heard the familiar ding-ding of my own phone and my hands moved to open my purse. Someone was texting and of course, it was “crucial” that I respond at that very minute. As my fingers pressed the letters on the screen, I heard my own flaws. My daughter was clamoring for my attention, her words seem to echo a thousand times even though she only said Momma twice. The next sentence out of her mouth was,”Are you listening Momma?”

I looked at her and then looked over at the man at the next table and realized that I wasn’t any less guilty than him.

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How much do you really listen? Do you text or talk on the phone while in company of family or friends? Do you constantly busy yourself with activities as an excuse not to listen?

Image by ky_olsen

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