The Listeners

This blog is not about the people who say “uhu,… yes,… sure…” etc. when they supposedly listen to us, but don’t. They hear the noise, though they don’t listen. Their one-syllable words mean nothing, except maybe “why don’t you shut up?” because they are busy giving their undivided attention to something other than the person who speaks to them.


This blog is about listening without listening. Most people know how to do it:

They hear a car approaching from behind and adjust their behavior accordingly, such as, for example, that they wait before crossing the road, or check visually if there is another car coming after the one they heard.

A mother often keeps an ear open to what her child/ren is/are doing in the other room. She will not truly pay attention until it gets too quiet. Then she’ll notice consciously and go and check.

When one walks in the city late at night, one has always an ear tuned to surrounding noises. When there are footsteps behind, things become very conscious and one might want to speed up.

The same awareness happens when walking in the country or in a forest after dark. Besides having to pay attention to the outlines one can just barely see without light, one will also strain to listen and try to analyze the noises. This can happen subconsciously.

I was amazed when I noticed how small children can be trained to subconsciously count while they are busy playing. Indeed, at my son’s elementary school, the bell rings a great number of times for morning, lunch, and afternoon recess. This happens because the kids go to recess in shifts, or there would be too many children frolicking around at the same time. Once, my son’s class was on the forth bell. Surprisingly, the kids knew when it was their bell almost every time, even when they were absorbed by their games.

Similarly, when I sit in our living room and hear a car starting in the car park, I don’t pay attention. We live in a triplex and the cars are parked next to our unit. However, when the car comes back after only a few minutes, the subconscious becomes conscious: “aha, someone needed to get more beer from the gas station at the corner.”

I find it fascinating that my conscious thinking pursues all kinds of thoughts, while my subconscious is registering facts, thinking thoughts and drawing conclusions about entirely different matters.