The title indicates that I think paying attention is an art, and I do. It is also one that although practiced, is seldom perfected. I know I struggle with it. I have a tendency to mentally skip ahead in a conversation, have concluded what is going to be said, and am just standing there at the end of the sentence waiting for the speaker to arrive. Not a good thing since I am often still standing there, alone, when the speaker has arrived at another location. Bummer.
That, however, appears to be only part of my problem. The other, if I am to believe my wife, is that I don’t listen at all. She has on more then one occasion asked me why I never listen to her. I said I do, to which she replied “then why do you yawn while I’m talking”? I said “I’m not yawning. I’m just trying to get a chance to say something.” (I didn’t really say that. I’m still here, right?). However, I have, once or twice, when she has lost her train of thought in mid sentence, asked her why I should listen to what she is saying when apparently she isn’t. I have the scars to prove it.
I have read that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and, after we have, we can really muck it up. Between, dialects, accents, colloquialisms, and just plain slang, it is fortunate that we can communicate at all, albeit, with some degree of difficulty. When I was still gainfully employed, I had the opportunity to travel to many states, and was exposed to various “shades” of the language. When I first arrived in Houston and, upon going to dinner alone, my ego became over-inflated when my waitress kept calling me “hon” and “sweetie”. I didn’t know I could have been Rasputin and she would have addressed me the same way. But, she had my attention, and a pretty nice tip.
I have the most trouble when listening to people that are less then specific. They tend to refer to things as ‘that’ or ‘those’ instead of what they really are. My wife does this a lot, and if you think you can figure out what she is referring to by observing the direction in which she is pointing, well, her sense of direction is also suspect. It’s kind of the senior edition of show and tell.
Realistically, all conversations are not stimulating. Often they are reduced to “niceties”, i.e. “how you doin”, nice day isn’t it”, or “I haven’t seen you for a while, where you been”. I once thought you were expected to respond to the question, but quickly learned that they don’t care. That would require listening and, heaven forbid, responding intelligibly. We don’t have time for that.
One of my favorite verbal exchanges is what I call “conversation by proxy.” This is when the conversation begins and you realize that the speaker has begun in the middle of their subject. This happens a lot in our house. I thought for a while that I was becoming narcoleptic and was dozing off during the first half. As it turns out, I was fine. I just hadn’t heard a word she was thinking.