To Become a Better Listener

May 7, 2012

Excerpt from "The Last Quiet Places," an On Being conversation with Gordon Hempton, May 10, 2012: 

I grew up thinking that I was a listener except on my way to graduate school one time, I simply pulled over making the long drive from Seattle, Washington, to Madison, Wisconsin, pulled over in a field to get some rest and a thunderstorm rolled over me. While I lay there and the thunder echoed through the valley and I could hear the crickets, I just simply took it all in. And it's then I realized that I had a whole wrong impression of what it meant to actually listen. I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it and screening out everything that was unimportant even before I had heard it.

In other words, I had been paying a lot of attention to people, but I really hadn't been paying a lot of attention to what is all around me. It was on that day that I really discovered what it means to be alive as another animal in a natural place. That changed my life. I had one question and that was how could I be 27 years old and have never truly listened before? I knew, for me, I was living life incredibly wrong, so I abandoned all my plans, I dropped out of graduate school, I moved to Seattle, took my day job as a bike messenger and only had one goal, and that was to become a better listener.


Sounds of Silence

Through the sounds of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton guides us to One Square Inch of Silence — with the chirping twitter of the Western wren and the haunting call of the Roosevelt elk. Take this aural hike [download] and be sure to listen with a pair of headphones or earbuds. You’ll discover quieting sounds you might miss without them.