I got short-changed in the “Vocal” department. When God was handing out voices to people like Barry White, James Earl Jones and Ted Williams I must have been waiting in line for a pair of blue eyes – they ran out in that line too.
So instead of a booming voice that fills an entire room and captures everyone’s attention, I got a whisper. I’m also woefully inept at saying anything profound or interesting so when I’m in a room full of people, I don’t want to say anything for fear I may sound stupid or dimwitted. Which is why, since childhood, I’ve developed a keen ear and a patience for people. (This doesn’t apply to driving on the roads or shopping, two situations in which the worse comes out in me.)
I’m also inquisitive which often lands me in a heap of trouble in today’s ultra-private world where people go to great lengths to hide their identities, social security numbers, phone logs, etc. I’m still a private person but my social-networking footprint is much larger than your Average Joe’s.
Over the years, listening has become more and more of a challenge for me. I would daresay that the same can be said of most people I know with a few notable exceptions. We’re just so inundated with information these days through radio, television and the Internet that is readily and easily accessible via mobile devices and wireless networks that we don’t have time to sit down and listen to what people have to say.
On the one hand I believe I’ve become jaded because everyone wants to speak and very few want to listen. But its also interesting to note that in my experience, people who dominate a conversation are less likely to get my attention whereas I tend to gravitate towards people who sit in the shadows, away from the action; the wall-flowers, shy introverts who take everything in and let nothing out.
When I was helping my friends Aaron and Tony run a magazine for Polynesian sports and entertainment, I had the blessing and opportunity to interview dozens of people from all walks of life. They were basketball, football and rugby stars; chefs, musicians, entrepreneurs and artisans. In traditional media outlets they were seldom open to discussions on race, family and goals. But when they were given the opportunity to speak to someone who identified with them, a fellow-Pacific Islander, the flood gates opened and they exposed a side to our Polynesian demographic that had been concealed from the rest of the world.
What was the key to peeling back a portion of that proverbial onion? Listening intently to what they had to say. There were interviews where I asked two or three questions that occupied an hour of time. That is the power of listening. It has benefited me well in my life. It has given me a better understanding (although still limited and growing) of the human experience.
So although I may still yearn for a deep booming voice, stunning blue eyes, a lean 6-foot-six-inch frame and the ability to captivate an audience, I’m content with a gift that God has blessed me with – the aptitude to listen with purpose.