Guideposts Classics: Arlene Francis on Listening Louder
In this story from May 1984, the star of stage, television and radio shares how she came upon a new way to "love thy neighbor."
Remember What’s My Line?, the TV program in which panelists quizzed a guest to discover his occupation? At the beginning of its 25-year run I couldn’t seem to get on the right track with my questions. Finally, I described the problem to my husband, Martin Gabel.
He nodded thoughtfully. “When I watch you on the show, I get the impression you can’t wait to ask a question,” Martin said. “My suggestion would be to listen carefully to what all the others say.” He grinned. “In other words, Arlene, learn to listen louder.”
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Though he put it to me in a joking way, Martin meant me to take his advice seriously. I did–and it worked.
By turning up the volume on my listening power–concentrating on the questions my fellow panelists asked and the answers they got–I became somewhat adept at discovering how guests made their living.
In fact, ever since, the main thing I’ve had on my side in a lifetime of working has been the ability to listen.
But on a deeper level, I found close listening goes beyond the business of taking in information. A stranger in her 70s showed me that it can be a way to “love thy neighbor.”
I met this woman–I’ll call her Mrs. Kline–from time to time when I shopped for groceries near my apartment. Her dark eyes were alert and eager, and always, when she saw me, she chattered away.
Sometimes, busy with my own thoughts, I had to curb a feeling of impatience.
“I’ll be making my trip to Arkansas soon,” Mrs. Kline said one day in her chirpy voice. “The hot springs there are good for arthritis, you know. But I’ll be back before you have a chance to miss me.”
As she reached for a can of food, I noticed for the first time that her fingers were stiff and bent. I wondered if they were very painful.
“Will you go by yourself?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve been a widow for a long time. But I've found a lot of nice people like you along the way. It’s wonderful to talk with you.”
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All at once I felt guilty. She was so cheerful–not the least bit sorry for herself! And she had the courage to brighten her quiet life by picking up conversations with people wherever she went.
All she asked was a chance to talk to hearing ears now and then.
Suddenly mine were much more available than they had been. And ever since, for Mrs. Kline and others like her, I’ve tried to listen louder.
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