People Hearing Without Listening

Close to four years ago I wrote about a lesson taught by kindly senior editor on the need to not just hear what politicians are saying but to also listen. Between now and our national government voting day on October 19 it becomes imperative that we do just that: hear the words of candidates spoken locally and nationally – and listen carefully to the message. If there is one.

I am told Paul Simon was 17 years old when he wrote the lyrics for The Sounds of Silence and with his partner Art Garfunkel sang of “people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening”. I think about the wisdom of those words often these days as political promises flood all media outlets. I hear the words and listen, often in vain, for a measure of reality and sincerity.

And I get to wondering what happened to those baby boom singers who wrote rhymes of challenge, put them to music and sang them clearly above the music as quiet exhortations to work for a better world? As a young father I heard their songs, listened, and understood their message. I don’t hear the likes to day, although I try to listen .But all  I hear are  sounds, which I think are  human, shouting insults or challenges which I cannot  comprehend however carefully I listen.

I miss the “sounds of silence” the singers of my children’s youth urged me to observe as they eloquently protested against wars and injustice. I hear them and listened. So did the world.

I know Paul Simon’s lyrics can be interpreted as individual listeners see fit. I admit I may be listening to a message I want to hear. But I think Simon and Garfunkel voiced remarkably accurate  prophecies made in the Sixties about life in 2015.They saw “ Ten thousand people, maybe more,/ People talking without speaking/ People hearing without listening/ People writing songs that voices never share/ And no one dared/ Disturb the sounds of silence.” Ah, those troublesome  “sounds of silence”, to be treasured when used to listen to what we have heard from songster or politician – and misused when we wrap ourselves in the comfort blanket of the “silent majority” not daring to disturb the silences often  imposed by political correctness.

As for those lines about thousand talking without speaking and people hearing without listening, isn’t that what we see today on the street, in pubs, in coffee shops, at bus stops, on the buses. Everywhere, people walking heads down, bumping into others, striding unaware across highways, or stupidly driving while talking  or texting – but obviously not listening..

Thoreau wrote that he had three chairs in his home “one for solitude, two for friendship and all three for society”? He added later that while he appreciated spells when the friendship chairs were in use “I never found the companion that was as companionable as solitude….” He could have added “or as valuable” when seeking time and space to listen to what politicians are really saying during an election campaign.


  1. Perhaps it is a coincidence; perhaps you also caught some of the Simon and Garfunkel PBS fundraiser the other night; but their remarkable insight not only predicted the society and politics of today, it provided a stark contrast to it. What became of that world of half a century ago?

    Yes, the politicians in both the Canadian and American campaigns can promise whatever they want because no one seems to be paying attention.

  2. Alas, most candidates have memorized the tlking points that their party have given them and few are expressing their real thoughts about matters national or local.

  3. Though not a cynic by nature, when it comes to campaign speeches, I admit to becoming one. Watching, listening, and really hearing what politicians do and say between elections gives insight into what they really stand for, in my view. And, oh my, Wilf, what did become of that world of half a century ago.

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