Learning to Listen

“A wise old owl sat in an oak. The longer he sat, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?” – anon.


Radio’s charm has changed. It used to be both intimate and fleeting–and while it’s still the former, we can now skip forward, select segments, go back, replay, tune in when we like and, importantly, we can easily share.

For a moment, I’d like to pretend we’re in a cozy living room and I’m inviting you in to sit with me by the radio, in an old rocking chair, and enjoy some milk and cookies.

There’s something special about closing our eyes and taking in a beautiful story, or allowing our minds to focus on the language of an incisive and stimulating debate.

For me, it started with audiobooks. I loved the way authors read their own stories. Over the years, as they’ve become increasingly accessible, I’ve fallen in love with a few really great podcasts.

As a seasoned listener, I’ve made attempts to lay out my best sample for skeptics.

If you’re starting to explain why it’s not worth it (you’re too busy, you always listen to music, you think radio is boring)…shhhh. Turn your speakers to a comfortable level.

Here’s a fantastic piece with which to start:

Recently, the team at This American Life produced an episode called Island Time, which took on several very difficult questions about relief efforts in Haiti.

Months after the earthquake–and months after stories about reviving fading interest have themselves faded–this story grabbed me by the ears and affected me profoundly.

Among other things, they ask: why, after so many years and so much money, is this country getting poorer? What does it matter that so much Haitian artwork was destroyed? Why should anyone care if their mangos are bruised? How many would-be-heroes have left Haiti without finishing what they came to do?

It’s so well done, and so important to pass on. This is the kind of journalism that really matters, and that we really need to support.

Photo credit: “African Owl” By Bill Hails on Flickr.

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