Sunday January 20, 2013
The art and the heart of listening
BY SOO EWE JIN
There is much to be gained in any conversation if we truly know when to speak and when to listen.
“YOUNG man, I have eaten more salt than you have eaten rice!” I grew up in a community where the old people use this phrase a lot whenever we children try to be too smart.
But my father was different. To him, there was no need to assert authority or demand respect simply because of age or position.
I am reminded about the conversations I had with my father, especially during his post-retirement years, and I was just starting out on my career.
He was not the talkative type, but whenever I asked him something, he would take time to share, and never in a condescending manner.
Some of our best conversations were at the seafront behind our house when we went fishing. He was definitely the expert as he could tell what fish we had baited simply by the way the line was tugged. And if we ever went out in a sampan, no one could row better than he.
I know my friends loved him just as much as I did because while he was a figure of authority, he never wielded authority as his right but would always listen to what we had to say before making a comment.
We all have our experiences to share about authority figures, whether they are our parents, our teachers, our government, or our bosses. And I am sure the stories range from inspirational to despair.
I am thankful that I can talk with my boys (young men they now are) without having to pull rank.
My eldest son drives me to work most days and I truly enjoy the conversations we have in the car.
There are days when I talk more and he listens. And there are days when he talks more and I listen.
We have both learnt that trying to talk at the same time is just a lot of noise.
I often turn to my second son for advice when I am lost for a word or not clear about a phrase.
In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, surely we want our children to grow up smarter and better than us.
My boys beat me at Scrabble but they cannot beat me at chess.
As I reflect on these parenting realities now that they are no more at an age where I can declare, “Just do what I say because I am your father,” it reminds me that older people who continue to take pride in “eating more salt” are losing out a lot in their interaction with the young ones.
And young ones too lose out when they think they no longer need the wisdom of the elderly because they can find out whatever they want at the tap of the finger on their mobile device.
Ernest Hemmingway was right to declare that “The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence.”
I hope you will take some time this week to engage in meaningful conversation with someone who is much older or younger than you.
> Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin (email@example.com) knows he cannot tell readers that when he writes, they should read. But he hopes his Sunday sharing provides some food for thought.