Listening versus Filling In

[Mea Culpa:  If you’re paying real close attention, you’ll notice I’ve deleted a recent post titled “Respect is Learned.”  In the post I told a story about one of my daughters without getting informed consent from her.  She asked me to remove it. ]

From Per Petterson’s novel, Out Stealing Horses, page 73:

“People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are.  What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions, and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook.”

In a beautifully written book, this is one of my favorite passages.  I often feel people know about me in the exact way Petterson describes.  People I interact with sometimes fill in with their own feelings and opinions, and assumptions; they compose a different life.  But if I’m honest with myself, I have to acknowledge I sometimes do that as well.

In the modern era in which we live, is impatient, incomplete listening inevitable as Petterson’s central character intimates, or can we learn to slow down, listen more carefully and patiently, and not fill in with our own feelings and opinions and assumptions?  Can we develop perspective-taking skills or are we destined to think what’s true for us is automatically true for everyone else too?

And does the burden for more in-depth communication lie exclusively with the listener?  What happens if people tire of others’ tendencies to compose a different life for them and gradually give up trying to communicate more than facts?  This happens to me.  When people fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, I consciously keep things superficial.  I suppose that’s true for everyone to differing degrees.

We should strive to listen more patiently and actively to those we interact with, while simultaneously persevering in communicating more than facts.

I created this blog because I don’t want to give up on close meaningful friendships simply because modernization has sped everything up and possibly compromised our listening skills.

On the surface, blogging is impersonal and superficial, but writing is a way for me to slow things down and reveal more than facts.  Whether that contributes to closer, more meaningful friendships, time will tell.  I hope so. 

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