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Perspectives are commentaries produced by and for WNIJ listeners, from a panel of regular contributors and guests. You're invited to comment on or respond to any Perspective on our Facebook page or through Twitter (@wnijnews), in keeping with our Discussion Policy. If you would like to submit your own Perspective for consideration, send us a script that will run about 90 seconds when read -- that's about 250 words -- and email it to NPR@niu.edu, with "Perspectives" in the subject line.

Are You Really Listening?

Lonny Cain

Stephen Hawking, a brilliant mind trapped in a paralyzed body, made this observation:

"For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen."

Well, genius as he is, I have to say Mr. Hawking was only half right.

People certainly have learned how to talk (and talk and talk and talk), but I am not so sure they really know how to listen.

Yes ... yes, I'm being a bit rough, but here's my point. Listening -- truly listening -- is not about hearing. At least not completely.

Let me share another quote, author unknown. It's on a little yellow card I have carried with me from job to job. It has been an important reminder to me as an editor and reporter.

Listen closely:

I know you believe you understand what you think I said
but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

It's kind of hard to follow, but that's part of the point. You have to listen.

And listening is not the same as hearing.

What we really need to do is understand what we are hearing. And that is not always easy. Especially when you factor in the fact that people often say things without really knowing what they mean.

Understanding what people are trying to say -- what they mean -- is important because the sad truth is, we often get upset at what people say. Not what they mean.

Perhaps that would not happen if we took a few seconds to ponder: What is it they really mean?

And if you can't figure it out, then just ask. And that is what turns into a decent conversation.

I'm Lonny Cain