Disappointed? Listen: What We Hear May Surprise Us!

listening and pondering philosophy politics

− one American citizen’s lengthy contemplation −

John McWhorter’s article How to Listen to Donald Trump Every Day for Years in The New York Times differentiated “speaking” in public from “talking” conversationally. He noted that Trump does not “speak” in public. Instead Trump “talks,” as he does, in conversation. McWhorter inferred that the American public is and will continue to be disappointed listening to Trump, trying to understand what he says. McWhorter’s article prompted me to consider our everyday disappointment, in general, in not hearing what we want to hear in another’s public “speaking” and in “talking.” What is the source of our disappointment?

 Romain Gary wrote of disappointment in Promise at Dawn: In your mother’s love, life makes you a promise at the dawn of life that it will never keep. You have known something that you will never know again. You will go hungry to the end of your days. Leftovers, cold tidbits, that’s what you will find in front of you at each new feast.

I interpret Gary’s writing to refer to mother love after we’re born. Only some of us receive the quality mother love of which he wrote. Thus, only some receive the promise he proposed and then are disappointed in that promise.

I suggest our lives are filled with disappointment because of a promise made prior to the one made to some in a mother’s love after birth. That prior promise is one made by the womb. Development inside the womb of another human promises an ongoing life of care and attention to the singular “I ” that each of us is. In the womb we were appointed a definite place, a place of continuous nourishment. Our task was to grow.

Our secure womb experience set us up to go hungry to the end of our days − to know again the affirmation and agreement our womb experience provided as it listened to us. We hunger to have our womb promise fulfilled. But…instead of fulfilling us life presents us leftovers and cold tidbits that momentarily satisfy our hunger. What we receive could be a feast, but will not be so, unless, and until, we take conscious responsibility for being an individual “I.”

At birth we were “dis-appointed” from the womb. We were set loose from our secure womb appointment. It was our first instant of reckoning. Emerging into a different environment of touch, temperature, scent, light, and sound we must have realized at some level that we had known something that we will never know again.

Never again would we be so understood as our mother’s physiology had understood us. Never again would any life surrounding us stimulate us to grow and flourish as had been so in the womb. Never again would our “conversation” with another person be so synchronous. Never again. New life encounters would present us with “dis”-appointing cold tidbits. Would present us, as well, in our newly forming consciousness, with emotion to accompany each “dis”-appointing tidbit.

Our life is long in comparison with our time in the womb. There is much time in which to be disappointed. Over, and over, and over again. If our lenses of looking and listening are shaded by expecting disappointment.

Perhaps, though, the organic womb promise of an ongoing life of care and attention to our singular “I” is spurious, is not what it purports to be. Perhaps the shock of birth is to jolt us into immediate recognition of an additional promise, one more lasting. A promise that life after the womb will be ongoing confrontation to make of it what we will. To let us know we will do something in response, and much of what we will do can be intentional, not reactive.

I choose to believe, rather literally, that the birth promise of confrontation is a challenge for us to respond intentionally. I choose, as well, to believe the declaration of assurance inherent in the promise we received from being in the womb. That is, we will go hungry to the end of our days for the affirmation and agreement our womb experience provided as it listened to us.

However, I see opportunity to participate in fulfilling the promise of the womb by responding intentionally to the birth promise of ongoing confrontation. We can respond by orienting ourselves toward providing a life of care and attention to another singular “I,” or to many another “I.” Our after-birth task is clear, if, instead of seeing ourselves as the singular “I” to be cared about and attended to, we view each other person to whom we relate as that “I” to envelop with care. We can provide each other nourishing wombs.

It’s not so difficult to cloak with care persons similar to us. We’re challenged, however, to enfold with that cloak people who look or act differently from us. We’re challenged to try to see each person different from us as an “I.” The challenge seems great to those of us who hear President Trump speak and talk so differently from our way.

McWhorter’s article about how to listen to the “come-as you-are-speaking” President Trump invites us to hear his public speaking and less formal “tweeting” talking as words of a twelve-year-old. We can do so, those of us who have been twelve-years-old. We can spend his entire presidential term snickering.

We miss the mark of responding to our after-birth “appointment,” though, if we hear Trump only as a twelve-year-old, and snicker. Naturally, then, we will be “dis”-appointed for four years. However, if we choose to listen to our own speech and talk – at the same time as we listen to Mr. Trump – we stand a chance of comprehending him as an “I.” As an “I” toward whom we have opportunity to provide a caring and attentive womb.

There are many ways of “speaking” and of “talking.” Your way of speaking and/or talking may not be mine. Mine may not be yours. Likely, you will not understand everything I try to communicate to you, nor will I understand all you try to tell me. That’s predictable and acceptable. To illustrate… Only some readers will understand why I still relish the sound and use of the word frenetic said by a friend in conversation several weeks ago. I explain in the next several paragraphs.

The word frenetic lingers in my psyche and returns daily, almost audibly – much like its meaning of being fast and energetic in an uncontrolled way. In my journey of “going hungry to the end of my days” and wanting my appetite to be filled, hearing the word frenetic was a “leftover.” But it was as satisfying as is eating the day-after-Thanksgiving casserole made of leftover turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Frenetic satisfied me because the person talking took responsibility to examine himself as an “I” in order to give as accurate as possible a meaning to his description of himself. His attention to presenting himself accurately, in fact, was attending to me because it had potential to nourish me.

The casserole of Thanksgiving leftovers always leaves me wanting more. So did the word frenetic. The physiology of the word frenetic, if I may stretch frenetic as an entity and apply the concept of physiology to it, reached into my own physiology. Womb-like, mother-to-fetus, I experienced being caring about and attended to by hearing the word frenetic because it matched my style of speaking and talking.

This explanation of relishing the sound and use of the word frenetic may look in print to some people to be just as “exotically barbaric” in style as President Trump’s talking style looks in print. Some folks, however, will delight in my description. They are the ones who perceive their life “appointment” to be that of examining themselves as they listen to speech and talk of another in order to be open to nourishment, to learning of some kind, even learning about themselves, from those words.

Listening to President Trump for four years ought not be a passive endeavor. We cannot hear what he says if we don’t listen to ourselves while we listen to him. We can challenge ourselves to move beyond expecting our birth “dis”-appointment to keep repeating as we listen to him. We need only “appoint” ourselves into attitudes expectant of nourishment proportional to the nurturance we extend. What we hear may surprise us.

While many of us want more or other from our “linguistically-challenged” President Donald J. Trump I pray we will consider our opportunity PLUS our human responsibility to provide a womb where he not only will gestate, but will flourish.

Listening is not a passive endeavor. Nor is becoming disappointed.

I repeat: What we hear may surprise us!

©Elva Winter, January 2017