I’m All Ears!

A Fable

Credit: immstories.wordpress.com
Credit: immstories.wordpress.com

A tortoise had become friendly with two geese who promised to take it to their home in the mountains. The plan: The geese would hold a stick in their beaks while the tortoise would grasp it in the middle with his mouth, but he must be careful not to talk. During the journey, villagers below made fun of the tortoise. When it answered back, it fell to its destruction.

You guessed the moral: Talking at the wrong time can lead to fatal consequences!

Quick Quiz

1. Are you the first to air your knowledge when your favorite topic comes up?

2. Do you interject your opinion before anyone else has a chance to speak?

3. Do you tune out what others are saying because you are busy thinking of a comment?

I’m just guessing here, but you were probably the 3rd grader whose hand was the first to shoot up when your teacher asked a question. And I must say I am guilty as charged. Just see the Cliff and Marian misunderstanding below.

*  *  *

Hearing and listening are not the same thing. The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention, says Seth Horowitz in a New York Times piece.

The Harvard Business Review blog reveals that one in four corporate leaders have a listening deficit. No surprise there! In the business world, failure to listen can muddle the lines of communication, “sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.” In our personal lives, muddle and mayhem can result.

Good advice for better listening? First of all, slow down. While listening seems like such a passive thing to do, it is essential for understanding. Secondly, consider the source. “Try to understand each person’s frame of reference—where they are coming from.” Disagreements can often be averted with skilled listening.

Studies show that thoughts move about four times as fast as speech. No wonder it’s so hard to slow down and actually listen.


Here is the beginning of a list of tips for good listening:

1. Give full attention to whoever is speaking.

2. Don’t interrupt. Let the other person finish before you begin speaking.

3. Listen with your face as well as your ears. It’s appropriate to smile, frown, laugh, be silent at times when you are in conversation.


A Cliff and Marian Misunderstanding

Sometimes listeners with a lot of practice get muddled up. Here is a “He said / She said” from our own experience:

Marian: Let’s eat out today.

Cliff: Wonderful idea.  (Time passes – Cliff leaves and comes home about dinner time noticing I’m in the middle of meal preparation.)

Cliff: I thought we were eating out this evening. Why, I had some ideas about where we would go.

Marian: For goodness sake, I was thinking that it would be nice to eat outside on the patio because it’s so cool.

Cliff: But I thought you meant we were eating out, like in a restaurant!

God help me!
God help me!

Listening in the Longenecker Family 1950s

Living in the Longenecker family in the 1950s, we children were taught to listen, pay attention. In a parent-centered household, we listened to directions about chores, instructions about what to do and what not to do. To balance things out though, we also listened to Daddy singing as he played the guitar or the piano, or to Mother singing off-key in the kitchen. “I’ll be somewhere, listening, I’ll be somewhere listening, I’ll be somewhere listening for my na-aa-mm-e . . .

Please add your own tip, an observation, or an anecdote about listening or the lack thereof.

Coming next: Another Moment of Extreme Emotion


23 thoughts on “I’m All Ears!

  1. Nice post- I think that I might print out the image from the fable- Lordy knows my students could identify with it! Listening is definitely underrated in my field, even we as teachers are guilty.


    1. You could educate those students on fables. Just a tip: I think I gave Curtis an old copy of Aesop’s fables with an etching of this story, even better than the image above from WordPress.


    1. We weren’t the Von Trapp singers, but there was a lot of music at our house: the piano, the guitar – even the radio. You share a lot of our history, especially on the Metzler side. Thanks, Gerry.


  2. Good advice about listening. I laughed at the Cliff and Marian misunderstanding. That is so funny! I would have thought what Cliff thought though.

    I can’t think of a particular anecdote right now. Our younger daughter has a wonderful voice, and I do miss listening to her sing. When she was living at home and practicing for her voice lessons and shows, I loved to sit in the other room and listen.


    1. In retrospect, I would vote for Cliff’s point of view too. After all, we usually eat “in” so why would I mention moving the meal outside. Oh, vey. (There is another tiff appearing on Wednesdays post!)

      You have a musical family too. I wonder if you have recorded your daughter – maybe you caught her voice on audio during one of her shows. I am more aware of the transience of time and capturing memorable moments now that my mother is gone.


      1. We have some DVDs of shows she was in–and I have watched them. There are a few performances I wish I had filmed, but I prefer enjoying the moment rather than watching it through a screen.

        Looking forward to Wednesday’s post. 🙂


  3. Marion – I loved your “he said / she said” story. And your #2 tip about not interrupting is imperative. Interrupting is one of my few pet peeves (right up there with littering, and seeing an unworn helmet strapped to the back of a speeding motorcycle).

    Because Len and I have experienced our own “he said / she said” incidents, we’ve developed a communication strategy that involves repeating back to the person what you think they said, and/or what you think it means:

    Len: Hey Laurie, want to eat out tonight?

    Laurie: I’d love to eat out! Which restaurant would you like to go to?

    So even though Len didn’t say anything about a restaurant, I HEARD (selective hearing on my part) that he was taking me out to eat at a restaurant. This is where Len can name a restaurant, or where he can say, “I mean let’s eat outside on the patio.”

    Here’s another true life example:

    Laurie: Len, the gas gauge in my car is just under a quarter tank.

    Len: So what you’re saying is that you’d like me to fill your car, right?

    Laurie: Yes please 🙂


    1. This sounds like material for your new book: Communication 101: Laurie & Len, LOL. Love the anecdotes.

      I guess you and Len are more evolved than the two of us in listening skills. Either way there’s a good story, don’t you think! 😮


  4. The years had been kind to the couple, my momma and daddy. But the listening skills that had never developed grew more distant between them as age, slowly, quietly, stole the hearing from daddy. He seemed to be content in his ever increasing silence.

    Momma, the social, talented musician had been in her church music program for more than 50 years. This night she was being collected by the organist to go to the nearby church to practice their instrumental music for Sunday. Though momma could play anything you could hum on the piano, she was all about practice, practice, practice for Sunday services.

    Her instructions to daddy as she responded to the headlights in the driveway, “while I’m gone, feed the cat.” With the TV blaring at decibels loud enough to cause the dead to be uneasy, he nodded and never skipped a beat from his evening ritual. Fortunately, no close neighbors in the small rural town in the deep south.

    Daddy was accustom to momma’s departure for weekly church services and never gave it another thought, except that he thought she said, “I’m going to feed the cat.” Some time passed, 30-40 minutes and momma had not returned from “feeding the cat.” All of a sudden, an old fear and panic developed in him that he had experienced years prior in an unfortunate situation that had threatened their lives.

    Calling out to her, opening the door, turning on all outside lights, she was nowhere in sight, car in place, cat purring to be fed, but no lifelong mate. Calling neighbors didn’t relieve the anxiety that was beginning to build. He telephoned my brother who was nearby telling him momma had “been kidnapped !”

    Brother had a cool, calm effect on daddy, but he had worked himself up into a fever pitch of panic by the time brother arrived. Further telephoning around resulted in an unusual number of friends, neighbors and the local sheriff arriving in mass!

    Another brother arrived from a nearby town at breakneck speeds enough to make Chuck Yeager envious. Together, “the brothers,” the neighbors, friends and local law enforcement descend upon the modest home with arsenals enough to make any SWAT team covetous. Keep in mind that this is a small rural town in the deep south. Everyone hunts, has shotguns on racks in the back of their pickup trucks, hand guns for invading varmints, etc. It was a sight to behold.

    About 30 minutes passes and momma’s organist driver tries to pull into the now crowded driveway with great alarm. Whatever in the world could be going on? Both startled “church ladies” emerge from the car with great apprehension and enter the now high tension of a posse in the planning.

    “What’s going on momma cries out?” Thinking all the while something horrible had happened to daddy. By this time daddy is in a complete state of panic waving a Colt 45 around like its a plastic toy. Upon seeing momma enter, in perfect health, accompanied by the church organist, he immediately becomes angry and embarrassed. All understandable after such an evening

    All was well that ends well and as is the Southern custom, all were invited to stay for refreshments of homemade pound cake.

    Thanks, Marian for bringing this “listening” story to the frontal lobe of my memory. Our family is still laughing and talking about it.


    1. This story had me in stitches! I had to read it twice to catch all the wonderful detail. What great illustrations of both hearing and listening and the lack thereof. Thank you, Southern Friend.


  5. Well, in our home I can speak to the kids and grandchildren who all listen and respond. My husband that is a different story. I come in and tell my husband about my day because I’m excited about the things I’ve done. Then I tell him I’m taking a shower and then will be down to start dinner.

    I come down relaxed and ready to cook when he comes up behind me and says are you ok. I said yes why? Well, you haven’t told me about your day. I said really, honey I have to take you to the doctors to have you checked. He laughs and responds. Too funny! There is never a dull moment in this house lol


  6. I facilitate a communication skills workshop for job seekers. The fable will be a good way to introduce this workshop.Your domestic story was funny. I’m sure we have many similar stories at our house. What we say and what other people hear are often 2 different things (and vise versa). Greta post.


  7. Like you, Marian, I was raised to be a good listener. This might be a dying art given many people’s focus on their iPhone and social platforms.

    The one funny mix-up I recall with my husband was when I told him about a dream I had. For some reason, I was recording the mobster from the movie, “The Firm,” for a news story. When the story was printed, it was filled with typos – not my fault – and the mobster was mad. What Dave heard was “lobster” not mobster. That got a chuckle from both of us once the misunderstanding was cleared up.


  8. How did I miss this post? I must have had a whole house full of family! I didn’t spend much time sitting at the computer. I love the way you combine anecdotes from then and now, research, and reflection. Since I was one of those third graders wildly waving my hand in the air (sometimes I would put on a pained expression on my face to try to influence the teacher calling on me — usually to no avail), I had a lot to learn about listening also. My father insisted on my full attention when he gave his orders. But that felt like coercion, so it didn’t take me the whole way to an internal desire to hear the voice of others.

    For that I had to read contemplatively and go on many retreats. I had to become a mother and a teacher trying to name the gifts of those entrusted to me.

    A story for you, prompted by the song at the end. “I’ll be somewhere listening for my name.” Naming and listening are intimately connected, as are teaching and mothering.

    Madeleine L’Engle visited Goshen College three times. Once I had her sign her trilogy that includes The Wind in the Door. “Be a namer,” she wrote to my son Anthony when he was about ten years old. When he was here last week, he opened her book and looked at the inscription. “I thought she signed this!” he said. Now he is naming his children’s gifts by listening to their stories and observing their actions.


  9. I’m glad you listened to your intuition and spent time with your family last week. Blog postings can wait.

    Like you, it’s taken some effort to direct verbal energies into proper listening skills. The “Whispers too much” checked on my 3rd grade report card was one such a prompt followed by many others.

    I am intrigued by Madeleine L’Engle’s visits to Goshen and particularly by her significant inscription in your book. “Be a namer” both arrests one’s thought and goads into action. I hadn’t thought of the inter-connection between naming and listening before. Thank you for taking the time to reminisce and respond.


  10. I hadn’t heard that fable in years. It’s a good one that bears retelling. One strategy I use in class is to take an experience, response or question and bring it up again another day. Nothing is sweeter than the sound of one’s name and a memory to go with it.


    1. I can tell you have great teacher instincts. You probably know the names of most if not all of your students during the first week or two of class.

      Now that I have graduated from teaching college students to teaching 2-year-olds, one thing we do to honor each child is to sing a simple song during snack (the only time they are still!) naming each child individually in the repeated stanzas. Apparently Madeleine l’Engle’s advice passed on by Shirley lives on!


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