Learning to Listen
Sometimes it’s the simplest lessons from the most unassuming sources that instill the most profound lessons. In a world screaming at us from every direction and every hour of the day, the importance of listening has diminished to an afterthought. Except for a two-year old boy.
I’ve come to learn that I have a lot to learn. Not just about design, or business, but all aspects of life. Sometimes that “learning” is just re-learning, taking two steps back, looking at things in a different light, and re-evaluating what I thought I already knew.
My two-year old son continues to amaze me. As any parent in the audience will agree, watching the mind of a child develop is one of the most rewarding experiences of parenthood. The deep learning period starting at about six months is like watching a sponge absorb a seemingly insurmountable amount of information — processing, distilling, calculating and reacting to environmental stimuli in what seems like an absurd pace. One day they walk, the next day they say “hi” when you open their bedroom door in the morning, the next day they are learning their colors and that pulling on the dog’s tail may not be such a good idea.
I’ve felt for a long time that our society is crushing our souls. The insane pace with which we conduct our lives is leaving zero time for peace, zero time for reflection and zero time for listening. All the time we pound and pound away at life, yelling at each other because we can’t pay the mortgage, climbing over each other to get a menial promotion, eating McDonalds because it’s cheaper than buying groceries, staying up late for the Late Show because you just want to smile once before you go to sleep. The world is driving 70 miles an hour in third gear and no one is paying attention to the smoke coming from the engine.
I don’t know at what point children’s minds get ground down by the millstone of life (I assume it’s when they get their first math test), but I know it hasn’t happened to my son yet. He continues to learn, and by doing so, continues to teach me.
We play outside almost everyday. We live in a fairly quiet neighborhood, with few loud noises but a constant array of ambient background noises, things most of us have learned to ignore. My son, not having learned to ignore things yet, is fascinated by these sounds.
He and I will often sit in the grass for ten minutes or more, looking at each other, and listen to all the things we can’t see, completely fascinated by the audible world around us. Overhead, a jet streams by, leaving a thin cloud of fumes and a distant buzz in its wake. In the far distance, a freight train blasts its horn (that’s one of his favorites). On the highway, a fire engine screams for cars to get out of the way. Just above us, some birds squawk and divebomb each other and a few doors down, a dog barks at the postman. And sometimes — in between the movements of this symphony of chaos — all we can hear is the wind touching the leaves and a leaf blowing on the pavement, and then, when even that stills, there is absolute, crystal silence, and for a second — just for a second — we can hear each other’s hearts.
It’s usually then when he gets up laughing and tries to grab the dog’s tail again. The moment is gone but the lesson in listening is there.