On the Power of Listening


As long-time readers know, on Fridays ā€” like, you know, today ā€” I do a week-in-review type of thing. Today, I want to first talk about something I posted to Twitter on Wednesday morning, because the results are fantastic.

The tweet was simple: “Of all the famous people you’ve met in your life, who were the kindest?”

I wasn’t asking the question in response to anything specific. And was I expecting a lot of replies. But I got a ton — at least a thousand, probably twice that. You can read them here (people who replied to my tweet) and here (those who “retweeted” it with a comment of their own). Normally, the rule of the Internet is “don’t read the comments” and I’m beyond happy to say that this is an exception to that rule. The stories are wonderful.

I’ve read most of them and there’s a near-universal theme. Here are some examples, with the celeb names omitted, and I think you’ll pick up on it right away. 

  • “he had a conversation with everyone in line at his album signing (like 200 people) on release day when he barely got any sleep and made everyone feel so special”
  • “Everyone was ignoring us @ a show and he stopped his golf cart to come say hi”
  • “[He] was very kind and gave me a huge hug when I met him and some other True Blood stars at a con. He signed a card for my mom who had cancer and talked to me for several minutes”
  • “he was going to a rehearsal, so Iā€™m sure he was in a hurry, but he was so kind to stand and chat with me for a bit about acting and school.”
  • “She was being pulled in every direction, and there were hundreds of kids, but she stopped and said a few words to us, making us feel like we were truly important to her”

All they did was take some time to listen. And talk a bit. 

Famous people, almost by definition, aren’t quite strangers to us — we know who they are, what they do, etc., even though they’re not our friends or family. On the other hand, we are strangers to them. It must be an odd experience. A few weeks ago, I saw (first-hand) dozens of teenage boys follow an NBA basketball player around when he went out shopping; at first, the player stopped to take pictures with the kids, but after a while, it just became unmanageable, so he just kind of walked quickly away from the approaching mob. And I don’t blame him — there’s simply not enough time for someone famous to treat everyone like they would a friend. And I think we all get that, intuitively. You’re not upset when a famous person doesn’t take time to speak with you.

That said, I think there’s a lesson here. My question wasn’t “tell me a story about when you have a conversation with someone famous.” I asked one about kindness. And the responses, overwhelmingly, were stories about famous people taking the time to listen.

Maybe, if we’re looking to make the world a kinder place, we should consider doing the same. When you can, take the time to listen. Even if you’re not famous, it can make a world of difference.

(Oh, and note how I said “near-universal” above? The big exception was Joe Pesci. That story, shared here, is also wonderful: “I met Joe Pesci when I was around 10 and he asked me who my favorite actor was. I said [to] him. He replied with a smile and said, ‘you god dam right, kid’ and handed me a $100 bill.”)

The Now I Know Week in Review

While I’m on the theme of listening: if you’ve emailed me over the last week, I probably haven’t read it yet. If you’ve emailed me before that, though, I have. I read all the replies to my newsletters; I respond only occasionally, unfortunately, but if you reply, I’ll read it. May take a week or so, though!

The stories from this past week:

Monday: Ask the Elves for Permission First, OK?

Tuesday: Why (and How) a Dead Man Committed a Murder. While the topic is morbid, I really enjoyed writing this one. 

Wednesday: The Man Who Went the Wrong Way Into the History Books. Before writing this, I was 100% sure Lindbergh was the first person to cross the Atlantic in a plane. He wasn’t.

Thursday: Yom Kippur. No newsletter.

And some other things you should check out:

I’m debating whether to keep this section, change it, or get rid of it altogether. If you have thoughts, hit reply and let me know.

1) This variant sudoku puzzle. I solved it without any help (although I almost got VERY tripped up very early on), but it’s definitely manageable. 

2) “More Fun Than Fun: The Underground Architects and Engineers of the Ant World” (The Wire, 14 minutes, September 2021). More about ants than you probably ever wanted to think about, but sometimes good stories are about things you don’t want to think about.

3) “How Watches Work: What Is An Automatic Watch And What Different Types Of Winding Weights Are There?” (Fratello Magazine, August 2021). The mechanics of something you probably didn’t think about.

Have a great weekend!