During one of my stints of grad school, I was working on my TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) certificate, and took a particular linguistics course that I thoroughly enjoyed. The professor was Dr. Youmans, and she was amazing. Our class was small, maybe 10 students total, and we were more like a little family than a class.
One of the things Dr. Youmans had us do was transcribe recorded conversations. While this may sound like a total drag, it was actually fascinating. I recorded lunch conversations with my coworkers, talks with Granny, hilarious conversations with my family, and would then listen to them over and over again, typing out every word spoken. My fellow students and I would read our transcriptions aloud in class which made for lots of laughter and some really interesting conversations.
We looked for things like interruptions and unfinished sentences, instances when someone else finished a sentence for the speaker and then ran with the train of thought. And something that really stood out in all of these transcriptions was how little anyone actually listened. What should have been considered rude, was actually quite common place. The art of give and take in conversation - listening to a complete thought, mulling it over and responding to that thought - was hardly ever present in these conversations we studied.
Listening. It is such a pleasant word and concept. It embodies the kind of person I want to be. Thoughtful. Interested. Kind. Attentive. Patient. Still. Quiet. Open.
Yet, even with my desire to be a good listener, I catch myself speaking over others to make my point, interrupting, and forming my own thoughts instead of listening to the thoughts of others. I get excited about a story, passionate about a subject, and sometimes the desire to be heard overpowers the desire to hear.
And so my resolve is renewed. I remind myself to quiet my mind and listen, to hear, to understand the speaker, to join them in their thought or story. Completely. I continue to practice this art, this discipline, this act of really listening, hoping to one day master it.
As my beloved linguistics course was drawing to a close, Dr. Youmans was killed in a car accident. I remember receiving the e-mail and rereading again and again, hoping it would eventually say something else. I didn’t know her outside of our class, but I was heartbroken. Another teacher took over for those last few classes, our little family broke apart, and that was that.
I eventually completed my TESOL certificate, and looking back all the classes seem to run together...except for Dr. Youmans’. She showed me the art and importance of listening, and that is a lesson I hope to always remember.