My wife and I had dinner recently with a couple who talked non-stop, barely stopping to eat, much less to pay attention to us unless we forced our way into the "conversation."
This happens a lot to me. A shared meal should be a relaxed opportunity to be present to one another. The daily pressure of living should be put aside so that each person can give attention to what is happening in the present, to the person as person who is with us. Otherwise, the get-together, like our recent dinner, is like a therapy session in which the others vent their unconscious anxieties.
Such people are good and loving people who are, for the most part, not arrogant or as self-centered as they seem. Why have they not learned the basic art of conversation? I guess because there is so little of it around.
The violence in our society never surprises me, given the pressure and the speed with which most people live. Even when they sit down to eat, they remain wound-up, unable to put their own agendas aside for ten minutes to take in fully who they are with.
What does it feel like to be listened to fully? Kay Lindahl asks this question in her book The Sacred Art of Listening. Her answer: when I am listened to, I am taken seriously, given a chance for my creative inner self to emerge, and so I recall who I really am. It is an empowering experience in a society that does not listen well.
I have used the famous example before of Joshua Bell playing his Stradivarius in the Washington, D.C. Metro some years ago, an experiment to see how many commuters would stop and listen. Very few did.
I have stopped getting upset at lunch or dinner companions who engage in monologues. I know it is bad for my digestion and blood pressure to want to scream, "But what about me?" I try to understand how fear governs our lives and that the best-intentioned people often will never be good listeners.
To be fully present to another is a gift of love; how seldom, in the excited rush of daily life, do we realize this? Slowly down might be a good start toward making us a more listening people.