Listen Up and Learn Something
In the 1950s, I left the southern United States where neighbors were of English, Scottish, or Irish descent. We followed the same unwritten rules on how to dress, what to eat, and how to behave. As years have passed, wanting to find out more, I began introducing myself to strangers, asking them questions, and they told their life stories. The abbreviated stories below are part of my current project called, Listen Up.
Billy Ming Sing Lee, young Chinese Architect and John Viano, old New Hampshire native collaborated together on our modern house in New Hampshire decades ago. Billy used ancient feng shui techniques to snug in our house among trees, boulders, and mountains at the edge of a lake. Even today, strangers paddling by will stop and exclaim and compliment the beauty of Billy’s and John’s work. Billy, as you know, has graduated from building houses to building friendships among nations.
Maya Angelo, a stranger, famous poet and guest speaker at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in New York graciously shared with me how she gets the attention of a distracted noisy group of a hundred or so well-to-do guests at a Sleepy Hollow Country Club, New York benefit. In a change of pace, she tells us how to get others to listen to us.
Jean Royer, called the blueberry man in Moultonborough, NH, went from being a lonely only child to becoming a pioneer computer wizard with his own company. In his next adventure, he owns a PYO (pick your own) blueberry farm. With the help of his wife Jeannine he uses opportunity to befriend dozens of strangers from all walks of life as they pick berries in his fields.
Ken, Supervisor of a Recycling Center in New Hampshire, fondly called the Dump, spreads his cheer talking to hundreds of people daily, even though all seem in a hurry to get on with their lives. He listens to complaints and suggestions and helps out in a myriad of ways. Oh the stories Ken knows…
Dave, a Ship’s Captain in Alaska has a glamorous job where he gives equal attention to the whales, guests, and crew. This debonair man’s loyalty to his childhood sweetheart, now his wife, was touching, and inspiring. Captain Dave listens to port officials, crew members, and ship guests as if they were family.
Sharon Jones, renowned singer from Portsmouth, New Hampshire was often the only Black child in her class. She tells how her mother, her dog, and a doll given her by her teacher helped her get through being ignored by the other kids. She has found her magic singing to people all over the world. Having courage, being entertaining, and caring about strangers are her trademarks.
Edwin, a car salesman in North Carolina got his start selling vacuum systems. He convinced a wizard of the KKK who originally tried to turn him away because of his race, to buy a vacuum cleaning system from him. Edwin has built trust, friendship, and respect with all of his customers – former strangers – but now friends. He works his magic by acts of kindness, thoughtful gifts, and staying in touch.
Elaine, daughter of the painter portraying Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, speaks of her, her mother’s, and sisters’ regrets of not being allowed to participate in racial protests and activities. Afraid their father might lose his job, they could only listen, not talk. Their frustration lasted for decades. They have taught me to feel fortunate I have been able to freely communicate and hear other viewpoints.
Conclusion: Asking, listening, and respecting strangers has changed my life. Before I started this project Listen Up, when I saw an unknown person sitting alone at a party and felt sorry for them, I rushed over to make them feel welcome. I thought I was doing them a favor. Now I know better. Today when I rush over to talk to a stranger, it is to listen to their story, understand them better, and marvel at what I can learn.
Billy’s Comments: Emilie wrote me a week ago: “My second book which I’m 3/4 of the way through is about how much one can learn from listening to strangers who are different from you. Especially the thought that wouldn’t this be a better place if we strangers talked and listened to each other.” Emilie and husband Dick Spaulding were my architectural clients at first. We are now Dear Old Friends. Dick, btw, lured Emilie from Georgia to New York City. Dick, while at Scholarslic Magazine, also discovered and introduced Harry Potter to the world.