Too much talking deafens art of listening

Burt's Eye View

My ninth grade Latin teacher was famous for — when we’d once again failed to follow her directions — glaring at us and booming, “How do you listen?”

We hoped that one of us would be brave enough to pipe up, “With my knees? Why, did I muck that up, too?”

None of us ever worked up that kind of courage. Even at barely 5 feet tall, Latin teachers are pretty scary creatures, especially when they get riled and start slinging “veni, vidi, vicis” all over the room. It’s not pretty.

Flash forward 40-some years and I still get the same question. Only this time, it’s from my wife: “Burton William, did you hear what I just said?”

I look up from a very important panel of “Prince Valiant” and say, “I think it’s fine.”

“What’s fine?”

“You know, what you were talking about. Go ahead with it.”

She narrows her eyes. “With what exactly. Show me that you were listening.”

If I’d known there’d be a quiz, I would have taken notes. “Um, this was about going to your sister’s on Thanksgiving, right?”

“Wrong. That’s what I asked on Wednesday. You never answered. Today… Never mind. You’ll find out when it catches fire.”

“OK.” I go back to the comics. Five seconds later — my ears run on tape delay — my head pops up. “Wait? What fire? Where?”

But she’s fiddling with her phone and not listening.

Listening. It’s a lost art.

I quit watching news shows on TV because all of it was just people interrupting and yelling overtop each other without any actual listening occurring. Or was that the presidential debates?

Once at an author’s expo, a gentleman parked himself in front of my table and regaled me about the wonders of his hometown. “You’ve just got to come visit. It’s beautiful.”

“I know,” I said. “I lived there. For nine years.”

“We’ve got this hiking trail that runs along the river.”

I nodded. “Yeah. I spent many happy hours on that trail.”

He waved his arms like a spastic cheerleader. “And you should see our park.”

I watched another book customer give my table a wide berth. “I used to take my kids there all the time.”

“You’ve never seen such a park. You’ve got to come and I’ll take you there. Then I can show you to the old train depot that’s been converted into a restaurant. You’ve never tasted such wonderful food.”

I sighed. “We ate there at least once a week. The lasagna was my favorite when I lived there. For nine years.”

“Order the spaghetti. No, the lasagna. That’s even better.”

I slumped in my seat. “There’s a Martian with a ray gun standing right behind you ready to vaporize you.”

“Then I’ll take you to the museum.”

“Your pants are on fire,” I said. “Oh, and a herd of grizzly bears just bounded through the door. One’s drooling on your shoulder.”

“Then we’ll finish the tour at the handmade ice cream stand. Such wonders. You’ve got to come.”

He finally left — because the expo was over. He didn’t buy a book.

“How does he listen,” my wife asked.

“With his knees,” I said. “Can you believe how badly some people muck up the simple act of listening?”

I paused while packing up unsold books. “Are we going somewhere for Thanksgiving?”

— Give Cole a listen at or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.