Mark Ballard

Hearing but not really listening

Our beloved dog, Georgie, who passed away a few years ago, had the sharpest hearing. From anywhere in our house, he could hear the slight squeak made by the small, brass mail slot on our front door just before the postman slid the mail through. His head would cock, and he would speed to the front door to attack the mean envelope and magazine intruders.

Georgie’s keen hearing also served him well in things related to food — especially the sound of a Zip-loc bag opening. He knew the plastic bags contained some sort of food that was better than his regular dog food. On many occasions, I secretly tiptoed into our kitchen, grabbed a Zip-loc bag and scurried to another part of the house to open it. Just as I was about to partake of its contents, guess who had found me!

Mine and my wife, Debra’s, hearing isn’t quite as sharp as Georgie’s was, especially when we’re in different rooms. We can be just 12 feet apart in our house, but we may as well be in sound-proof booths on a game show. “What?” I scream from the other room. “I cannot hear a word you’re saying!” Debra continues to talk. Frustrated, I put down whatever I’m working on and go to her. “OK, I’m here. What are you saying?”

At lunch the other day, a group of friends and I were discussing the process of hearing versus listening. One word that kept popping up was “focus.” We were discussing how frustrating it is to have to repeat things over and over to one of our mutual friends.

“Does she have a hearing problem?” I asked. “Absolutely not!” another friend blurted out. “She hears you but just doesn’t focus!” This is a trait that I understand all too well since it is one of my personal issues. Sometimes listening has nothing to do with our ears but everything to do with our minds. My mind is full of so many ideas it’s like a room full of out-of-control bouncing balls.

Debra says I need to learn how to listen better. Each year it is very near the top of my list of New Year’s resolutions. Every year I inch a tiny bit forward on the listening scale, but I still have many miles to go. Debra calls it selective hearing. I disagree with that a bit since I really can’t decide which bouncing ball to catch.

Granted, Debra’s a great listener, but no one is perfect. One thing I have discovered after 35 years of marriage is if you want your wife or, anyone else for that matter, to hear anything, just whisper. Whispers have magical qualities.

Many times, we hear more than we are willing to admit. Sometimes we take in information that we choose to forget. If it doesn’t capture our interest, then we allow it to pass like flour through a sieve. And, many times, I find myself waiting so impatiently for someone to finish their sentence that the internal preparation of my rebuttal causes me to miss what they actually said. Sometimes, I also hear the first few words someone says and immediately try to finish their thought.

If someone doesn’t immediately respond to something I say, it signals to me that they didn’t understand or hear what I said so I quickly repeat it. Debra tells me that some people actually think before responding. “Really?” I ask. I usually just blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind. This trait usually serves me well when I’m on stage or live television. However, there have been a few times it didn’t, but I won’t bore you with those details.

Hearing is a vital part of our lives, but the art of listening adds quality to our lives. We all could use a little practice in listening. Maybe that’s the reason there is so much confusion and stress surrounding us in our lives. We simply don’t listen well enough to what others are saying. I’m going to try to become a better listener this year. What about you?

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.