San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Some Will Speak, Some Will Hear

THE world, according to my neighbor Forsquare, is almost equally divided into Talkers and Listeners. Well, I’ll go along with that, providing Forsquare admits to being in the first category.

Myself, I prefer to be a Listener; the technique is simple – you just have to nod now and again while you plan your escape – and the dividends are impressive. By saying nothing you avoid demonstrating your ignorance, and if you nod vigorously enough, the Talker who has been bending your ear all evening is likely to spread the word concerning your wide knowledge of affairs.

But don’t get me wrong; Talkers are an essential component of the social scene. What kind of disaster would you have on your hands if you invited five couples to dinner and every last one turned out to be a Listener? On the other hand, it would be perfectly OK if they all turned out to be Talkers, who in fact function just as well in front of a microphone or a TV camera, which can’t even nod, as in the presence of warm bodies.

IT is my firm conviction that Talkers derive important health benefits by practicing their craft. They are the kind of people who used to go to expensive psychoanalysts before Chlorpromazine was found to be more effective and considerably more economical. Thereafter, they mostly converted to Catholicism to guarantee a willing ear in the confession booth. Little do they know (or care) that their confessor has developed his own defense against utter boredom.

How do I know? Well, I tried it myself once, just to check out my hypothesis.

“Father,” I said, “I have sinned. Yesterday I murdered my best friend, and last week I did away with my Mother. I just don’t know how to stop.”

There was silence until I coughed loudly then, as if recalled from a daydream, my priest mumbled “Yes, my son. Say three Hail Mary’s and don’t do it again.”

Obviously he was a poor Listener, because how on Earth could I off both my Mother and my best friend more than once?

BUT there’s something else about Talkers that bears closer examination. They aren’t Listeners, by definition, which means they aren’t even listening to themselves, so it seems to me that they too are planning the next meal, or whatever, while their oratorical flow continues unsupervised. To check this out, try interrupting Talkers in mid-sentence. Ten to one they’ll give some kind of an answer unrelated to the question, then (and this is the give-away) they’ll say “Where was I?”

Now I put it to you as a discerning Listener, how could anyone not know this unless the mouth had been operating independently of the brain?

Be all that as it may, and admitting that Talkers have their place in the community, I must admit to a sneaking preference for Listeners. They are usually empathetic, caring people, who practice true charity in the exercise of their chosen function, while Talkers are often all too eager to sell you something you don’t want or to touch you for a loan.

VOLTAIRE, who should know, claimed that speech was given us to conceal our thoughts; an assertion that seems self-evident when you watch a politician ducking a difficult question by a hostile interviewer. So Listeners, beware! Discriminate! Choose your Talkers from among your friends, as carefully as you would delete e-mail messages of unknown origin!

And have a good day!


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