(Caution: Rant ahead.)

Last month, I had a significantly big argument with a friend (one which doesn’t get fixed with time). Apart from the core ideological difference in opinion, what irked me was that he was not listening to my constant requests of keeping quiet for two minutes. His 10 seconds of silence was a test of his and my patience—for different reasons. This is a characteristic feature in him—he cannot keep quiet (and listen).

But he is not alone.

The more I meet people, the more I become aware of how much they like to talk. They talk about their opinions. They talk about their professional qualifications. They talk about their feelings. And they also talk about their feelings about my feelings!

As an evident introvert, most acquaintances witness the quiet or reserved side of me. My family and friends are well-versed with the other—talkative—side of me. The difference is visibly vast because I consciously tell myself to stay quiet and listen.

This quality of being a listener is something I take great pride in.

However, things started changing once I became an adult. I met more and more people who were constantly talking about their great feats.

My 20s was dominated by the thought of wanting to ‘fit in’—especially as an introvert. In a society and space where people were talking about every thing, I stood less chance of being someone if I kept quiet. However, thankfully I did grow beyond the tumultuous ambition of ‘fitting in’ and decided to let my work do the talking.

By being a listener, I was introduced to a new way of life. I learnt the therapeutic art of self-reflection. I wrote and photographed earnestly. My breathing and footing were gentle. I smiled generously. As if I was more receptive and alive to every living and non-living thing around me.

In my 30s, not only am I struggling to maintain what I had learnt in the last decade, but am also battling a new plague. This one is layered with entitlement, blind privilege and perhaps even sexism.

Too much noise and little connection?

Since my last month’s argument, I have been paying very close attention to all those who tell me (or peers in a group) ‘sorry for interrupting’ in a conversation. 90% of these are men (and these are people I have known for sometime). If I were to stereotype them, most are academically highly qualified, earn very well, happily married and socially gregarious. I can’t help but wonder why aren’t there enough women interrupting me. Are we by default listeners or have been made one?

This piece in The Guardian throws some light. The writer says, ‘Speech is another basic human right. To have a voice, to speak up, is to be recognised, to belong. But girls are trained in silence. They are told to be quiet, to speak softly, dheere bolo, to have no opinions, no arguments, no conflicts.’

This doesn’t imply that I have never been interrupted by women but the percentage is much lower.

With women not being listeners, I have a different painful plight.

Social media has changed the way we consume information. Listening is an ambitious quality to possess now. We are struggling with basics like self-confidence, trust and communication and a host of others. Ironically, this post about listening comes to you only because we are connected on social media and the Internet.

I digress.

Most of my female friends are constantly asking me how come I didn’t mention about incident A on Facebook or how I didn’t post such a beautiful photograph on Instagram, during our one-on-one meetings. For some of them, it isn’t enough that we share such experiences in personal conversations and interactions. Perhaps it needs to be further validated.

But where is the magic of exclusivity and an investment called attention on Facebook? I won’t divert into how social media cultivates lack of attention and empathy. But I’d like to ask: isn’t it special when a loved one shares that good news with you face-to-face or at least on a telephonic conversation than a public post on Facebook? I know I prefer the former.

I tell people to ‘be quiet’ because I am decluttering to go through my 30s to become a stronger listener. Because being attentive and available to those who matter to me is imperative.

Don’t get me wrong but are we listening anymore?

Note: This is not a personal attack. It is a self-reflective rant. 

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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6 thoughts on “Who’s listening? ”

  1. :) I hear you. In my family and this is personal experience but it is the women who dominate these conversations and interruptions. So for me, it always seems like, women interrupt more than men. I have carried the same experience through my other social interactions. Unfortunately, I also did the same thing throughout my 20s. I will soon turn 30 (in about 4-5) months and I intend to listen more and talk less. Having said that, this realization came to me this year, when conversations started to turn toxic for me and I can now feel its side effects physically and psychosomatic manner. It didn’t really come easy to me (may be because I internalized that women around me talk and so I talk too). Not giving excuses but I think in my case it is been conditioning+ my own thought process. Now that I travel, meet different people of different cultures, I meet foreigners too and suddenly realized that people didn’t tell me not to interrupt till now. Now, they do. So, I am trying to be more alert and tweak my way of living and talking. Listen more, talk less. (Irony of the whole situation: See what big comment I put to your article. ) Is it about talking succinctly or is it about talking less, I wonder?

  2. Sorry you had to go through that argument with your friend. I’ve been in similar situations especially the last 2-3 years when both men and women interrupted me while I was speaking. I won’t say anything but there were times when I forced myself to say, “I haven’t finished yet”. Some got the message right away and immediately felt remorse while others were simply clueless. The problem with society nowadays is that it’s a competitive world out there, so people feel like that they have to be louder in order to be heard..or seen. I haven’t had friends asking me why have I not posted this event or that occasion on Fb..maybe it’s because we are in the 40s group, we are more inclined towards face-to-face interaction and don’t care at all if one posted the coffee session in FB or not because what matters was that we met and had a great time over coffee :)

  3. Listening is an art, which very less people learn or possess these days Amrita.. Every word of yours hits the bulls eye.. We need more of this breed who possess this quality of listening.. Even our constitution gives the right to express, but what to do when people stops in the middle,though in the end they would say “yes thats what we meant” but they forget they didn’t let one complete his words and brought an unnecessary argument.

    There is a saying “Knowledge is good, but imcomplete knowledge is a blunder”, and this blunder happens with those only who reach to conclusion before the saying stops coz they have stopped listening.

    I pray for those suffering with this less listening syndrome, and for you too that you meet less of such argumentative less listening breed. ??

  4. So damn true .. we don’t listen no more and I am a culprit as much as anyone else, even though I am not talking much, I ain’t really listening either.
    And both men and women are equal culprits, at least in my personal experience

  5. “This quality of being a listener is something I take great pride in.”

    *air fist bump* to that^
    Susan Cain’s Quiet helped me a lot in owning my space, my introversion, my sensitivity, empathy… and a lot more. I’m also learning that I can use silence to get people to listen – especially to the ones who matter. And especially, when it matters.
    P.S.: Not to be confused with passive-aggression :-/

  6. This is scary too as I was counting how many times I have told you sorry for interrupting – but am sure we didnt have such an argument. Nice read as always

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