Dad was a great listener. A long-time friend told me this story about his first real experience with dad’s listening skills. I am changing job titles but not the story. A new manager timidly asked the board to consider making some changes to the presentation schedule. All the board members except dad debated back and forth and huffed and puffed and the new manager kept looking over at dad thinking he was sleeping, or not listening, as his eyes were closed, his body relaxed, and then after about an hour dad opened his eyes and spoke. Dad said: let him do it, we go through this each time and each of you have the same arguments and finally we let them do it, and it always turns out okay. Apparently that finished the meeting.
Dad had few words but he could listen – perhaps a skill learned listening to his patients to get to the diagnosis – perhaps just his personality, but he listened to everything. He also asked probing question when necessary. He would then consider the answers and say his piece without molly coddling, in as few words as possible to get his point across. When I first started taking music lessons and played whatever song I had just learned for him, his response was usually “not bad, you need to keep practicing” and then the next night “you are getting better, so keep practicing” and finally “that was good, keep practicing, I love to hear you play”. He didn’t molly coddle but he never spoke meanly either, just truthful without all the fluff.
I was taught the Suzuki Method of music created by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. I took lessons when it was a brand new method – way back in the early 60’s with teachers from Japan. We first had to learn how to listen to each note, and really listen to all the different parts of the song, which notes to whisper, when to shout them, when vibrato was needed, when to make the music dance, or when to make it sad, and then memorize all the parts that made the song, the song. Then we had to play it for the teacher, be shown where we did it wrong, and practice it, and practice it, until we had it perfect before we could go to the next song. We had to learn how to do that before we were allowed to learn how to read music. I loved my music teachers who were all young Japanese nationals who barely spoke English, who would come for a year or two and return home and another would take her place. Now I think the lack of a common language between us, assisted the whole process because words weren’t available, only showing and listening.
Despite the grumbling of having to practice each day, I now wish it was possible for all children to learn an instrument before they are old enough to go to school. I also believe my early music training played a large part in how my brain rewired to speak on the right side of my brain instead of the left side. This article explains how musicians especially those trained early, have different brains and the plasticity that comes from it. Parts of the article are a bit technical but continue to the discussion part where it is easier to understand.
Whether I learned how to listen from dad, or from my music lessons/teachers, or both – learning how to actively pursue understanding is a lesson that has helped me tremendously, plus the memorization I had to do before I was old enough to learn to read music, were two important lessons that have helped me both professionally and personally every single day of my life.
Music aside, if you are interested in tools to help you become an active listener in daily life, this short article is worth reading. I found the quote below in the comment section of the article (he didn’t know the author of the quote).
“Ordinary listeners only listen until they have an opinion about what they are hearing or until they validate what they already know. Great listeners listen until they learn something they did not know before.”