THE ART OF LISTENING
AN ADDRESS BY SIR JOHN ADAMS.
Thursday, March 31, 1932
LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, President introduced the speaker.
SIR JOHN ADAMS: The subject I would like to speak on really is "Listening; the art of listening with deviations as we go along.
There is more cruelty in the world through lack of good listening than any other cause. When Burns wrote the lines, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn",, he could not get a better example than the way in which we do not listen to other people. You all know in your own experiences how, when you make a remark to another person, the answer to that remark is not an answer to you at all, but the reaction of that particular person.
On one occasion, going down from London to Plymouth to lecture, there were two persons in the carriage with me, one on each side of the window, a man and a woman. They did not know each other at first, but the man did something complimentary about the window, and the woman was pleased, and the man ventured the remark "That is a very remarkable school we just passed". Now. I have a weakness of pricking up my ears at certain subjects, and accordingly at the word "school" 1 pricked up my ears, although I had no business to. The lady replied, "My boy is at Rugby". The man said-this was one of the schools called the Municipal Secondary School--"Rugby was where the late Doctor Arnold was", and the talk continued, and I took put my watch and began noticing. It went on like that for twentyfive minutes, and reminded me--she is not dragged in--I was really reminded---of an old Irish woman who was optimistic. Not that she had much to be optimistic about, poor old lady, she had only two teeth in her head, but she remarked. "Thank God they meet." (Laughter.) Now. here was a conversation which lasted five and twenty minutes, and never met (Laughter.) They could be written out separately as consecutive statements.
Now, in our life---and I do not think I need emphasize this to an audience like this-if there were more women present 1 would be very emphatic (laughter)--the point is that they do not listen to one another. My students in California are a fine set, five thousand girls of all the colors of the rainbow, and all talking at once. 1 put it to one of them once. I said, "How do you manage Miss So-and-so, when four or five of you are all talking at the same time?," And her answer was, "It is like this, Professor Adams, if anybody says anything worth hearing we all hear it!' (Laughter.)
That, then, is the aesthetic side, but suppose we come down to the professional side. Those of us who lecture are really exponents of the art of listening. We ought to extend listening and understand it, see how other people are doing it, and get within their minds and work from within outward, but unfortunately our art-the art of lecturing-is in a parlous state at the present time; we are being snuffed out. Editors and lawyers and authors generally have been rather badly used of late, because of these new fangled means of communication. Formerly, a decently good lecturer could go anywhere and get a job, Now, unless you are a super-lecturer, you have but a very small chance, and the chances are gradually diminishing. The reasons are those infernal instruments which have occurred of late, which are working us out altogether. (Laughter.) They kill out time and space. Formerly, if you gave a lecture., you had to be there to give it (laughter), and the people had to be there to hear it, but now by virtue of this abominable thing called the radio, space is eliminated, and you can stay at home and listen to the lecture or not, just as you please.
Speaking about the moral aspect of listening, even that is spoiled at the present time by means of the radio; it spoils our morals. We look at the thing there, and if we do not like what the man is saying, we press a button, and that is the end of it. It seems to me if those buttons had a reflex on both sides, it would have a wonderful effect. (Laughter.)
All this makes it very difficult for us to keep up our job as lecturers. Then, not only is space eliminated, but time has gone by the board. The time was when in addressing an audience you either took them or you did not, as the case may be, and if you made an observation, you might, before going away, have somebody say, "What do you mean by saying So-and-so", and you could say, "My dear fellow, you have it wrong; it is badly reported." (Laughter.) You cannot do that now. If you do, they produce this abominable instrument which records back not only your words, but your very accent, and what can you do? (Laughter.) So at the present time only the super-excellent speakers have any chance at all.
On the other hand, there is fortunately a desire among us human beings to see one another; we like to see the man saying the very words; we like to make sure he is there, and not a mere spirit in the air, about which we are not so sure now. But, as I say, altogether, we are in a parlous state.
And in this connection, there is an instrument which does not exist which probably never will exist, but which I would like very much to see exist. It has a hybrid name; it is called a "phrenometer". There is no use in my trying to spell the word, because I got into a had habit with my students in seeing how they spelled words, In other words, I got curious results (Laughter.) My first lecture in the London University was to an audience of Oxford and Cambridge girls, who came up for advanced education, and it was on "The Ego". Curiously enough, in Scotland they called it "Ego", with the long sound of "E"; the professors seem to find it ,easier to so pronounce it, than to put the short sound upon the "E". So my first lecture, after 1 had been expounding for perhaps a quarter of an hour, was interrupted by a young lady who rose, and very politely asked what the subject of the lecture was. (Laughter.) They bad an idea that it was a lecture on "ornithology". (Laughter.) I see that some of you see the point already. (Laughter.) Now,, there is no great harm in that, but it taught me a lesson, and that is why I would like to call this instrument the "phrenometer", which comes from two ancient words, phreno, meaning the mind, and meter, meaning measuring, and the entire word meaning the measuring of the mind. We want that instrument very badly, but we do not have it. It is of course simply a figure of speech, a metaphor, to compare it with a thermometer. 1 have always envied the teachers of physical sciences, because they have such definite material to work upon. An old professor of London used to complain bitterly about the way in which the nobler sciences were treated, metaphysics, and logic, and all those mysterious things. We want an instrument in, the science of the mind, to do the work of the phrenometer in the popular sense of that term.
Gentlemen, can you imagine an instrument shaped something like a thermometer, with a bulb at the bottom -there is no need for the bulb at the bottom, but it is good for the imagination. (Laughter.) And then we come to me point which corresponds to the freezing point of water. We call that "the inference point". Then, after a rather long zone, which may be called the "inference zone", up near the top there is another point which we may call a "groping point", and beyond that there is the final point, beyond which we cannot go, which 1 would like to call the "gaping point." (Laughter.) Start now with this phrenometer, the lower regions, before we come to the inference point, and indicate the observation zone. Within that we do not need to do any thinking; we just jump at conclusions. Some of us in this room are fairly good at that, but after all we do not use our ability along that line systematically; we do not use our reasoning power nearly so much as we think we do. We could not get on with our work if we had to reason out each thing, if we had to work always in the inference zone. We are content to work in the observation zone, where we draw. conclusions without going through any reasoning process.
For instance, a man comes home in the evening and as he goes upstairs, he says to his wife, "I see jack has come in". He sees nothing of that kind. jack is not there. He sees a battered straw hat, a pair of gloves, none too clean, and a cane, so he says, "Jack has come home." Another example is if you were to go down to the seashore and see one of the old salts there, a man who has weathered many a storm, and you ask him what the prospects of the weather are for tomorrow, and he says, "I see it is going to be a fine day." Now, he sees nothing of the kind. He sees a certain stratum of clouds, and feels a certain humidity in the atmosphere, and in the past he has learned to associate those signs with a fine day tomorrow, so he says, "I see it is going to be a fine day." He is working on his observation, zone.
Now, take an example which is not a true one-not actually true, but it is true as regards behaviour and true in actual facts, but not in detail.
Supposing, for example, you felt you were not very well, and your wife thinks you are worse than you do yourself-by exception (laughter)--and in that case she says, "You must have the doctor", and the doctor is brought along, and he looks at you, and as he looks at you he takes out his pencil and begins to write in a little notebook, talking to your wife all the time--and not about you either (laughter); it may be about the rose show, or the latest thing in fashions, but he writes out the thing and hands it to your wife, and goes away, and leaves you furious. You say, "That fellow is not doing his job; he does not do the things he ought to have done; he did not thump my chest; he did not ask me to say "99" (laughter), as every decent doctor would!' (Laughter.)
Now, if your wife knows psychology-which I hope she does not(laughter) -she would begin talking and say, "John, don't worry about it; he came in and he knows you. He has treated you before for the 'flu; you are suffering from the 'flu now, and there are a great many people in town, and the doctor knows all about it, so do not worry, you will be all right tomorrow". The Doctor comes back tomorrow, and finds you pink. (Laughter.) Now,, I understand on the best medical authority that you have no right to be pink on the second day of the influenza. The moment he sees you, he has risen to his inference point. He begins to ask you all sorts of questions. No trouble about it this time; he thumps you all over, and asks you all manner of impertinent questions, and he cannot make anything out of it, He goes off, and hurries around to his other patients that morning in order to be back in time to see how things are going, and he hurries home to his house and, dashes to his study and pulls out all the books which are necessary, and tries to find out all the chromatic elements of medicine, and he cannot find why you should be pink that morning. So he comes along early in the afternoon to see you, and by this time you are slightly orange. (Laughter.) He does not understand that either, so he rings up his friend. This friend whom I have in mind was a Scotchman, named McArthur, and he said, "I say, McArthur, last night 1 saw a fellow with the ordinary 'flu, and I gave him the usual dope, and this morning the beggar is pink. I have just been to see him, and now he is orange; what do you make of it?" It so happens that this friend has been in America long enough to acquire the American language, and a thorough knowledge of it, and he knows the proper answer. The proper answer is "Search me." (Laughter.) But he added, "I will come along. and we will go and see the beggar and see what he is like now." So they come along, and they find him slightly greenish, and they examine him in every possible way, and your own doctor says to your wife, "I think there is nothing really serious; I do not want you to be alarmed, but we would like an expert in. Would you allow us to call in the great chromatic specialist, Doctor Madden". She says, "If it is as bad as that, we must have him". So Doctor Madden comes in the evening and the three of them stand by the bedside, and examine you, and then they go into a side room and come to conclusions not fit for publication (laughter), and they come out and say "We are not sure about this exactly; I do not think you need to be alarmed; we will come back tomorrow morning and see what can he done". Then they go away and pray, individually and collectively, that something will happen during the night which will indicate what the trouble is. (Laughter.) Well, this not being a true story, we will drop it. We all have a desire for a happy ending, and we will assume that the next morning you are a normal colour, and the three men go away rejoicing.
That is one example of the work of the phrenometer. At the beginning, the doctor was in the observation zone; the next day when you changed color he came to the inference point, and then up and up toward the groping point, where they had the conference on what would happen, and when they reached the groping point, they were in a position of being absolutely distressed; they do not know even what to ask next. (Laughter.) Keep in view your own experiences, and when you find you are coming near this groping point, be ready for the gaping point, and when you reach that, what will you do? The answer is "gape." (Laughter.)
And then, you being wise men, you naturally turn to something else, and begin to think of something else, and then possibly come back to this. Take another example; this time a true one. An old lady connected with a church got a letter from her
minister which she could not read. I say that literally; she could not read one single word. She knew that it was from the Minister because at the top in block letters was printed the name of the Manse, but what he wrote about she had not the least idea- She had a son-in-law
who was a ~1 master, and supposed to be an authority on had handwriting, so she handed it over to him, and he glanced at it for a moment, and suddenly found he was at the gaping point himself, straight away. He did not know anything at all. He asked a question or
two; had she been asking the Clergyman about anything; she could not remember; so he went away, and at school he did the best he could, and while on his way he did as many of you do on similar occasions, he whipped out the thing and opened it, to see if he could take it by
surprise. (Laughter.) Now, it is not a had plan, and sometimes succeeds, when you reach a point where you are worried over some problem for a long time, and you cannot arrive at any fixed point, that if you will begin thinking about something else, and then suddenly
go back to it, something may appear to you which will appear intelligent at least on the surface.
However, the school-master could make nothing of it, and he went to school and taught the first lesson, and took the paper out again-nothing at all. Another hour's teaching, and he came back and thought that he had made a discovery; he thought he had found the word "Jehu" in it. He knew that this letter was from a clergyman, and it seemed like a likely word, only it did not seem to help him very much. He did not know anyone of that name. So he went back to his class. He came back to the letter, and thought maybe he was wrong, that perhaps it might be "John", and the second word looked like "pleuch", but he did not know anybody named "John Pleuch", or even "Jehn Pleuch," so he went back again, and thought it over, and then he thought he had found one or two things, and he found a word which he thought looked like "mother", in the plural, but he did not know whether it was mother's or mothers'; he could not he sure (laughter), so he went back home, and he went to the old lady and he said, "Here is a word which I think is either 'mother's or 'mothers", and she paid no attention to that; it was of no interest to her. But she was struck by the very word itself, and that made her think of something else, and she said, "Oh, 1 know now; it must he mothers'; that must be about the mothers' meeting 1 conduct every week, and not only that, but 1 remember now that I asked him to recommend to me a book suitable for reading at mothers' meetings. The was the very thing, and he has evidently given me a book. And they tried to think of a book which would he likely to be read at a mothers' meeting. Our school master friend was rather religious, and he turned the matter over in his mind as to some religious book, and he remembered one book which was called, not "John Pleuch", but "John Ploughman's book", a very suitable book to be read at mothers' meetings--a big book with small print (laughter)-very interesting.
From that point onward they went on and discovered the whole of the letter. The meaning of the whole thing came gradually bit by bit. That is an example of the application of the non-existent instrument of the phrenometer.
Now, during our life it is worth our while to keep this instrument in mind in relation to other people. We are very apt to make serious mistakes in life. Other people think you are on, the same level of the phrenometer as they are. Very often we are speaking in the observation zone, and the other fellow is really at the gaping point; he does not know what we are talking about.
What we want especially is a classification of backgrounds. You intelligent men in business know, speaking generally, the sort of background of the man you are talking with. Most of you here are successful., or you would not be here (laughter), and if you are successful, then you have a knowledge of backgrounds. You may never have sat down and deliberately said "Let us study the backgrounds", but when a man has come in to see you, you are looking at him, and trying to figure out his background, and you are thinking it all the time without knowing it, and you are working in the observation zone, and are picturing how to appeal to him. You know, you approach one man in one way, and another man in another way. If you are a lawyer you watch your jurymen and put a kind of a background behind each one of them, so you may endeavour to hit upon a particular point which would appeal to a particular man. The cross-examiner in court is feeling for the proper background, some of it very unfairly. A very favorite habit of lawyers is to confound the two things, memory and imagination,. Most people do not realize that they are counterparts of one another; memory works back-wards, and imagination works forward, as a rule, although it can work backward every now and again. (Laughter.) And a lawyer will put nasty questions. I will never forget a particular case I saw in London where a good, decent business man, thoroughly honest, was on the stand, and the lawyer said, "When you went into the room, did you open the door?" The witness said, 'I must have opened the door", and the lawyer said, "I am not asking you what you must have done; did you open the door?" The man, after some hesitation felt that he must have opened the door if he had gone into the room, said "Yes, I opened the door". Then the question was put, "Was the handle on the left hand side or the right hand side of the door?" My friend did not know which it was, but on the whole he thought that the right hand would be a good guess, so he guessed the right hand side. The lawyer was very much discouraged, because he thought he had drawn him out,, and then he said, "Mr. So-and-so, you say you remember opening the door, and you turned the handle, did you not?" Again my friend said, "Yes, I turned it," because he thought he could venture as far as that, and then the lawyer said, "Did you turn it to the right hand side or the left?" (Laughter.) So my friend was in a complete box; he did not know how to go about it, because some handles turn to the right, and some to the left, and finally he knew if he said one thing and it was wrong, he. would be damned as an inaccurate witness, and so he said, "I really cannot remember", and the lawyer turned to the jury, he said, "You see, our friend cannot remember; he remembered he opened the door, and turned the handle, but when he was asked to answer something which can be verified, he cannot give a proper answer". (Laughter.)
We ourselves ought to remember that a great deal of what we regard as memory is actually imagination. Our memories recall a certain number of things, but in a while our friendly imagination comes along, and fills up the gaps, and that is certainly a desirable position.
Now, I have made a careful study of a person known to all of you in this room, a person called "Sherlock Holmes". He had a way of finding out things in a mysterious way, so it seemed, but he was really applying what I am calling now the practical side.
Now, in ordinary life we have a great deal of Sherlock Holmes' work being done every day.
You are probably aware that there was a real. genuine, two-legged alive Sherlock Holmes. That was not his, name, but he was an external lecturer in the University of Edinburgh. His name was Joe Bell. The students of the University admired him very much for the way in which he could find out things which they could not find out for themselves. When Conan Doyle went up to Edinburgh he was talking to Joe Bell, and Joe Bell was talking to him, and he appointed Conan Doyle as his recorder at the clinics. just imagine if you can that, this is the clinic room, only of course it would be empty except for chairs for thirty or forty students at the rear, a chair here for the patient a desk here occupied by Mr. Bell. Now, the usual professor beings "What is your name; what is your occupation; what do you think is the matter with you?" and all that sort of thing, but Conan Doyle's friend, Joe Bell, usually looked at the man and told him things such as "You are a bricklayer, are you not?" or, "You are a blacksmith, are you not?" and in one particular case of which Conan Doyle told me himself, a man came in and sat down, and Joe Bell looked at him, and he said, "You are an old soldier?" "Yes, sir"; "Recently discharged?", "Yes, sir"; "Highland Regiment?" "Yes, sir"; "Served in the West Indies?" "Yes, sir"; "You are a bank messenger now, are you not?" "Yes, sir", and some of the students wanted to know how in the world he knew those things. He explained, first of all, that the walk of the man indicated he was a soldier; secondly he did not take his hat off when he came in immediately, the way an ordinary person would, and that showed that he was not long out of the service; he was a non-commissioned officer, by the way he swaggered (laughter), and then he was with the Highland Regiment, because he was in Edinburgh and they always have a Highland Regiment there, and he knew he served in the West Indies by the fact that he had a mark of the bite of an insect on his forehead, and that insect exists only in the West Indies. That was a very satisfactory state of affairs, and occurred in reality, and was worked out in one of Conan Doyle's books, "The Sign of the Four", I think it was, when Watson is very suspicious of Sherlock Holmes and does not think he knows very much, and he has had a gift of a watch from his brother, who recently died, and he handed the watch to Sherlock Holmes, and he said, "This is my brother's watch", he said "Can you tell me about my brother from that watch?" Sherlock Holmes produced the usual eye-glass, and examined the watch carefully, and he said 'I am sorry, I cannot tell you very much about your brother from this watch, because it has been recently cleaned; if you had given me a good old dirty watch, I would have told you all about him." I found that thing true in my own experience from an old doctor named Doctor McKlimm, in Glasgow, who if you showed him your watch, could tell you which side of the Clyde you had spent your holidays upon as the sand is different in the one side than the other, and he could tell you immediately whether you came from Millport, Ellen, or Rothsay, or from some other place.
So, in, the case 1 was speaking of, Sherlock Holmes said, "All 1 can tell you is that you belong to an old family, of rather good descent; further, your brother was very erratic in his life, and given to drink, I am sorry to say, and further he had many ups and downs in life, sometimes in good circumstances, and sometimes in had. Watson was very angry, and he said "You found out all about my brother, and you are trying to palm it off on me as information from the watch". Holmes said "No, certainly not. What I see in the watch is this. First, it is in the nature of an heirloom; there is a big crest on the outside. In all old families a watch of that kind goes down from father to son, and the eldest son gets it, therefore your brother was elder than you." Watson said "That is all very true, but what about the ups and downs"? Holmes said "There is a piece of information--and incidentally I do not suppose any of you here know anything about it; I did not, until 1 was told by Conan Doyle--but in the pawn shops they give you a ticket when you go in, 'John Adams, so much money, so-andso", but in addition to that they make a little private mark for their own edification. Holmes said on this particular watch there are four or five of these marks (laughter), and obviously he had been up and down a good deal. With regard to the drink;"--and he opened it up, and it was not one of these watches that you wind by the stem, but a key-wind watch, where you inserted the key in a small hole in the case, and upon looking closely Holmes had noticed a great many marks which should not have been there, and obviously the man had not always been sober when he wound up his watch. (Laughter.) So he knew all of those things from the watch, and all the workings were really in the inference zone. He did not know just at once; he had to think about the thing as he went along. There are other cases which have occurred in my own experience rising along the potential use of the phrenometer.
On one occasion I was walking in London, and stayed for a considerable time in a street where the university college is--I forget the name of it
A VOICE: Gower Street.
PROFESSOR ADAMS: Yes, thank You, Gower Street. I stayed there with another man about my own age at that time, who was suffering from a disease which is quite common in Scotland, and I believe it is quite common also in this country, it is called "calf love." (Laughter.) It was a bad case. Her name was Nelliewell, it was not Nellie at all; I would not give her away in that manner, but he spent a great deal of time with her, and talked a great deal about her. But by and by the disease passed away, along with Nellie. (Laughter.) Four or five years afterwards I was in the same room, and my friend called on me rather excitedly, and he said, "A curious thing happened to me yesterday; do you remember Nellie Walker?"--as if I could ever forget the young My--after living with him (laughter) -and I said "I do seem to remember something about her", and he said "I have not thought about her for four and one-half years, and yet when I came to call in a house here in Gilford Street, as I went up the stairs I knew I was to meet Nellie, and when the maid opened the drawing room door, there she was". And then he used that phrase which I hope you will not use here today, "How do you account for that?" (Laughter.) Well, it is not my business to account for that. (Laughter.) However, I did my best, and I said, "Had Nellie any particular scent she was fond of?" All of you psychologists know that scent is the most prominent recollector of the pastand this chap had been a very generous suitor, and had spent lavishly upon her,, and had given her an umbrella, a presentation umbrella, one of those umbrellas with a silver handle-real silver--one of those umbrellas which can be recovered a great many times-and Nellie was Scotch. (Laughter.) We looked into the matter, and found that she still had that umbrella, and that it had been in the umbrella stand when he called, and he did not know that it was there, but seeing it brought her back into his mind and into his thoughts.
Take another case of another student of a different type altogether, who was an engineer, and was connected with the gas works at Crewe. One night we got a telegram saying that his uncle in charge of the gas works had fallen suddenly ill, and the Government of the place thought it would be better to have one who had spent his childhood in that neighborhood, rather than get a new person, even of more mature years, who did not know the work. My friend was proud of that, and started down to Crewe and arrived there and worked hard on the job, far harder than he ought to have done, and when it came night his head would no sooner hit the pillow than he would fall asleep. One night he awoke, and he had had a horrible dream that there was going to he an explosion at two o'clock, and he looked at his watch, and found it was one o'clock. The impression was so great, that he got up and hurried down to the works, and found there would have been an explosion at two o'clock if he had not interfered. Again You ask me, "How do you account for that?" We tried to study it together. I said "How did you know when you got down there that there was to be an explosion at two o'clock?" And he said, "I knew it by the indicator% and I said, "What is that?" and he said, "That is a lead pellet, which moves up and down, and when it moves down it reaches the gasometer, and when it gets to a certain position, it blows up. I wonder if any of you will say "That is not a gasometer" you have in mind this nice round clock-faced sort of thing, but remember this was fifty-five years ago, and they had a leaden pellet moving up and down.
I said to him, "When you saw that, how did you know there was to be an explosion?" and he said, "You could easily calculate that", and I said "Could I calculate that?" and he said "No, you are an outsider, but anyone who is used to it would know what would occur." The explanation was quite obvious. He had passed the place a dozen times during the day, and his eye had caught this little pellet slightly at any rate; he paid no particular attention to it, and then. when he fell asleep and his mind rested, it came back and began doing his work, and his mind, even though unconsciously, had reached the inference point,, and drew a conclusion, and he jumped up and thought about it, and put the thing right.
We could naturally go on and give a great many cases of this kind, but I have been very well trained as a speaker, and my time is one-half minute from the end, therefore I propose to stop now, and throw myself upon your mercy, and thank you for your great attention. It is a great joy to meet here and to see the Union jack. I have not seen one for a long time, except one they have at Los Angeles for special cases, which is a very small one. I have given, on two occasions the Fourth of July addresses in American cities, which shows that they are not so bitter against us, and sometimes they get a big flag. Out in Colorado, they have a flag bigger than that of the United States; they use it because they have no other Union jack, and I thought it was always, a rather generous thing to do. 1 was led to say this. even though it has no connection with my subject, still it is of great connection with the Empire Club. (Prolonged applause.)
A vote of thanks was proposed by the Hon. Mr. Henry, Prime Minister of Ontario.