Column: Have you listened to yourself lately?

By Mike Eddleman

Have you ever heard yourself sing? I don’t mean hearing yourself in real time as you sing along at the top of your lungs to your favorite tunes. I mean going through that emotional meat grinder of being faced with the evidence of your special brand of musical butchering.

If you haven’t, I suggest you do, as it is very revealing. It is also humbling, painful and, if you are really lucky like me, it will be so bad not even you could take it seriously enough to keep a straight face.

I believe we make two key mistakes in communicating. The first is we do not listen to what other people have to say. The second, which I believe to be more problematic and ties directly into the concept of listening to our own singing voices, is we don’t listen to what we ourselves have to say.

If you doubt that theory, put on some headphones with your favorite song playing and record yourself singing sans backup. All you have to do after that to prove my point is to play back that bit of disharmony. It is very revealing and a mere 18 seconds of me belting out “Stairway to Heaven” did the job.

I have known for most of my life I could not sing, which is why I do not do so in front of other people. But I admit that in my car or at home by myself I might be found rocking some favorites along with the music. Every now and then I think, “I don’t sound half bad there.” Don’t buy your own hype.

It could be the vocal version of water boarding. Karaoke DJs live for people like me, and audiences soak it in like a car wreck they know they should not be looking at.

While they do not lack the range or harmony our singing voices might, our words often fall into the same category of not being listened to even though we can hear them coming from our lips. We all know that hearing something and listening to it are very different.

We live in an age when our words travel far and fast, leaving little opportunity to take them back or qualify them, yet we are less careful with them than ever. We become especially tone deaf when showing our racial and gender insensitivity.

Take for example the words of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen who responded to the sight of New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s family by saying, “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.”

Whose view does Cohen represent? Does he truly believe that even if those are your views it is acceptable to express them?
His words are inexcusable and leave most of us shocked they would even make it into print. There is a point to make in there somewhere if you read the column in its entirety, but most of us lose all interest in his point – regardless of whether it is valid or not – when we trip over those words.

My question is, did he speak those words out loud or read them critically to himself when he wrote them to determine their value? Did he consider what they would contribute to the message? Did he hear what it would sound like to all of us, or did he just hear himself singing in the shower again and decide that because he likes the sound of it the rest of us would as well?

I would like to believe if he read those words closely or repeated them to himself he may have seen the flaw in them. He might have seen those words as hurtful or inflammatory and chosen an alternate way to make his point.

We all do this all the time, though.

In early October, an Arizona lawmaker referred to President Obama as “De Fuhrer,” likening him to Adolf Hitler. Multiple times during the last election cycle, candidates struck a chord of disharmony regarding rape and pregnancy, highlighted by Missouri’s Todd Akin, who claimed women could not get pregnant in the case of “legitimate rape.”

Commentator Ann Coulter said, “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.” Can she hear herself speak?

Akin, Cohen, Coulter and many others who have made such out-of-tune comments would have made more friends performing the soundtrack to “Cats” solo.

In the end, we are much more self-conscious about our karaoke voice than the words we choose to express our thoughts, beliefs and disagreements. How can that be possible?

Are we so arrogant in our beliefs and thoughts about others that we discount the possibility we are displaying a terrible bias we can’t see past? Are we so insensitive to and ignorant of the circumstances and struggles of others that we can comfortably rely on our preconceived notions about people different than we are?

I believe it is because we rarely feel responsible enough to stop and listen to our own words and opinions, that we do not think we have the duty to validate them, make sure they make sense or are based on actual facts.

Next time you feel the need to say something hurtful, destructive or inflammatory, stop long enough to ask yourself if you are being as careful with those words as you are with protecting the identity of your singing voice. It could save you a lot of embarrassment and help us all communicate better.