Learning to Listen

(Discussion #1 for IST 646)

What effect does personality and reputation have on storytelling? When you are telling your own stories, you can’t be impartial. Your identity is tightly woven into your narrative. This leads me to wonder: can we be impartial listeners? Can we learn to listen to a story without our preconceived notions of the storyteller getting in the way?

Before we get started, feel free to check out the video that inspired this post:

I’ll be honest. I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro, and there’s an iPhone sitting on my desk next to my laptop. But does that mean I worship the ground that Steve Jobs walked on? Not really. In fact, when I saw the YouTube clip posted in the online forum for our class, I may have sighed…just a little. Here’s the thing. It’s not personal—I just didn’t have high expectations for the speech based on what I already know about Steve Jobs. As you might have guessed, my first attempt at watching the video didn’t go too well. I was too busy anticipating what he might say instead of simply listening to what he actually was saying. I eventually came around.

Was Steve Jobs humble? Not really. Does that bother me? Yes. But, on the flipside, have I always managed to be humble through my successes? Maybe not. This led me to think that if I could put aside my preconceived opinions about Steve Jobs I could take a clearer look at what he achieved in his speech. In order for me to find some value in his speech, I needed to be at least somewhat of an impartial listener.

Steve Jobs’ commencement speech was in fact powerful and memorable because of the stories he told. He found a way to make himself relatable and created a bond with the audience by doing so. People can find themselves in his stories: maybe they were adopted, or maybe they have struggled with the cost and value of a university education, or maybe, they’ve found themselves on the outskirts of a group after acting wrongly. It is also very easy to find ourselves inspired by hearing about someone else’s bravery, because when it comes down to it, we’re all somewhat competitive. I imagine a good portion of the audience was thinking: if he can do all that, why can’t I do something amazing too? Ultimately, I did connect with his stories, and I will concede that his method of using stories in his speech was effective.

So, I’ll swallow my pride and say: Steve Jobs, thanks for all the great technology that I use in my everyday life, and thanks for teaching me that there’s more to listening than just opening your ears– you have to open your mind as well.

And, following through with this whole “listen without judgement of the person” thing, I gave John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) recent commencement speech a chance even though his personality usually grates on me a little. I’ll admit it, he did have some interesting things to say.

*Featured blog image from Wikimedia; photograph by matt buchanan

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