One of the big deals in the art of listening is, not surprisingly, the desire to listen, and since we rarely wish to hear anything that (1) we do not already know or (2) do not wish to know, we may find our career as listener somewhat squashed at the start.
For all that, a group called the International Listening Association, which one would assume to be some governmental bugging outfit, met in town last week and turns out to be (so far as can be seen on the surface) relatively sane, and not especially sinister.
Since the membership is heavy with schoolteachers, most of whom have probably taken courses in teacher's colleges, it is necessary first of all to conceive they may not all be imbeciles; and allowance must be made, to begin with, that since they are all other people from ourselves (and therefore highly suspect, of course) still they may know something we do not.
One weekend session dealt with "listening in strenuous situations," which seemed ideal for any reporter to attend, since the average reporter listens to many people, in situations invariably strenuous and frequently grim. Especially at the office.
Erika Vora, who speaks with a German accent, wags a head of dazzling curly long yellow locks that reach beneath her shoulders, and stretches her white wool-clad body with a good bit of gesturing, spoke on listening to the dying and to Skid Row bums. One sensed she was sympathetic, sincere and undoubtedly helpful to many.
She called the bums "listenees" but that is probably only a linguistic defect of her German background, and once you get over it (trusting that when one dies or winds up on Skid Row one does not have the misfortune to become a listenee) she pointed out the unarguable probability that one cannot truly listen to a listenee--the bum or the dying--if one thinks he has nothing to say, or if one thinks he is some creature from lower space.
Dr. Vora also enchanted her 26 listeners with repeated references to poor people who do not even have a roof under their heads.
Virginia Katz, addressing the interesting (interesting because one has probably never thought of it) matter of listening to old (over 25) students returning to college, or beginning college at advanced ages, implied a couple of times that "Listening" is a subject that may lack sufficient intellectual content for one to become fascinated with it as a serious study. She said she had found it virtually impossible to teach adults about listening without also dealing with responses to what is heard.
Her husband, Al Katz, speaking of listening to the physically handicapped, said it was rare that such a person ever made any sort of sensible adjustment to life if he (or she) did not come to terms both with his body image and his sexuality.
We assume, he said, that such persons (in wheelchairs and maybe minus legs) cannot possibly be interested in sex, and in this we err. He did not say everybody should dash out for sex with a paraplegic, but that we should avoid the assumption that their accident or ailment somehow transformed them into sexless creatures.
Association members, chatting and strolling about between discussion groups at the International Hotel, were dressed in conventional middle-class attire and could not be readily distinguished from a group of language experts, hardware salesmen, Milton scholars or visiting chemists.
One sensed quickly they must be, by and large, good guys, since everybody knows listening is a good thing. One cannot see how harm can come from holding national meetings or seminars on such a nice subject.