<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 132 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 5, 2003

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Lending An Ear

Neeman A Sobhan

Surely, it's not asking too much of people, is it? However, the reality seems to be otherwise. Ask someone to lend you an ear and you'd think you had asked him or her to lend you their earring, or a piece of their diamond studded earlobe. All you want is five minutes of your friend's time, so you can pour your heart out about some small misery, having made sure that they were free to listen to your tale of woe. Now go ahead and just try to formulate your first sentence, and see if you can get to the end of it without your 'listener' going slowly blue in the face just bursting for you to finish so she can launch into HER own SIMILAR experience to counter your story, which NATURALLY is a hundred times more agonising than yours. Call it 'one-down-man-ship', call it disaster-envy, but your tragedy will never get a fair hearing among this kind of friends.

Yes, the listening aspect of friendship in these feckless times has become an exercise in talking past one another. Nobody listens to you any more. Everyone wants to be the talker; no one wants to be the listener. Still you try. So, yesterday, in spite of your ripping headache, you had to prepare an impromptu dinner for five extra people? “HA!” Your friend's eyes glint unsympathetically even across the phone as she squashes the martyr in you by ignoring your tale and instead, throwing at you with relish, the triumphant fact that while you had a SIMPLE headache, SHE, on the other hand, had nursed a throbbing TOOTHACHE, ALL of yesterday AND the day before because the Dentist was not available and on TOP of that she had to face a house full of visitors for whom she had to prepare breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Take THAT!

Not to be outdone and licking your wounds, you whine: “Yeah, but at least you have a household help, mine has gone on leave.” “HA!” She laughs bitterly, “Your maid has gone on leave; mine has taken leave of her senses. She has gone totally mad, you tell her to do one thing and she does another. Useless.” And you end up hearing about her maid, her dentist, her visitors, and her other assorted crowning miseries, perhaps, her uncooperative husband, or dog or neighbour. In short, you have lost this round, and yesterday's headache is threatening a comeback. You bide your time to get a word in edgewise just to say that you really must hang up. But she has already launched into her tirade about her miserable old car that won't start. Actually you had a similar problem with yours yesterday, but you bite your lips and shut up. You are not one of 'them': You are not a bad listener, merely a reluctant one.

In fact, all my life, I have been too good a listener, rather, an excellent listener and one who listens with compassion, making the right encouraging noises. Actually, I am one of those persons everyone unburdens to. If I'm on the verge of stepping out and the phone rings and it happens to be one of my loquacious or complaining friends, I never hurry them (I actually don't know how) and always lend my ear till they drop off. Thus, it is galling when the compliment is not returned, and instead, when it is that rare time for me to give vent to some grievance, I find my story instantly hijacked and flown to my would-be-listener's own destination, deviated, detoured and far from my original port of grief.
This happens to me all the time. At first I thought that this phenomenon occurred regarding misery. But I found that sharing good news suffered a similar fate. Not only is my interlocutor(s) not really impressed, I have to end up listening to how they have either already been there, done that; possessed it, been possessed by it; had a better deal, a larger package, longer duration, shinier version; and in conclusion, (which takes another ten minutes to become conclusively conclusive) been more fortunate, and more often than I.

Makes me wonder. Do I have the wrong kind of friends? Where can I trade this lot in and get a fresh batch with certain desirable specifications, for example, that they should be suffering from massive cases of laryngitis, chronic lethargy that stops them from jumping into your story, and some kind of mental disorder that makes them smile at your happy anecdotes while making clicking noises with their tongue at your tragic tales without these triggering off similar and better (or worse) incidents from their own lives.

Seriously, can't the art of listening, that is, listening with awareness, sensitivity, compassion and non-judgmental objectivity, be learned or taught? Or is the art of listening simply a natural gift, or rather a curse that some unfortunate individuals like me just happen to possess, which the rest of the world takes advantage of? You nod intelligently and lean forward to catch every nuance and detail of the world's one-sided conversation, and then when it's your turn to talk, the same world turns glazed eyes and deaf ears to you, only half-listening and blithely interrupting your story and turning it to rubble under the crushing wheels of its chatter, undermining your unshared experiences and diminishing you.

Or have you ever tried to disagree with someone about a book or film, or dissent from the general opinion about the accepted spin on a discussed topic? See if you can take a breath before you even attempt to phrase your arguments before the tidal wave of opposing views will carry away your demurring words as if it were a fisherman's hut in Hatiya.

Come, are there no gentle souls out there, willing to un-wax their ears and apply duct-tape to their lips for the duration of five minutes while they hear me out as I enthusiastically tell them about, say, my weekend of doing a life-enhancing course called The Art of Living? “HA!” Says my 'friend', “If you really want a course that would change your life, let me tell you about the fantastic one on Feng Shui that I took last year….”

With friends like these who needs…….a column? I do. Thank God, my space doesn't talk back. HA! I can say, before anyone else can interrupt my flow. HA! Whoever thinks that the Feng Shui or Sheng Fui or Shiatsu course was great, let me tell you about the Art of Living Course I just did. And I shall do so next week, right here in this mute column space, without interruptions, and without glazed eyes and deaf ears. Well, whichever organs of perception people bring to their reading, surely, glazed eyes is not one of them, and surely, it is not too much to ask people to lend you their…. figurative ears?




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