So far we’ve talked a lot about the term “generous listening” coined by Krista Tippet in “Becoming Wise.” It seems like generous listening can take many forms. It can mean listening to someone intently, asking insightful and detailed follow up questions, or allowing oneself to listen to and truly experience a view different from our own.
The two assigned West Wing Weekly podcasts are excellent examples of generous listening. The hosts, Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway give their interviewees their full attention and develop interesting and precise questions to provoke great story-telling. In the first episode, they have on Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The West Wing. They question him about his writing process and about his workaholic habits. It is made evident by his responses that Sorkin himself also practices generous listening in order to write his hit TV show. As he experiences the world around him, he is constantly taking notes and developing them into story lines and he incorporates what is going on in the reality into his stories. He also demonstrates generous listening in his ability to represent two sides of an argument in the show. He states that he enjoys the sound of two smart competing arguments and that he fell in love with asking the question “Have you looked at this way?” This requires the ability to listen and develop further inquiries to opposing points of view, rather than simply coming up with counter-arguments to support his own views. Attention to detail is another key factor of generous listening. We hear Malina, Hirway, and Sorkin discuss the evolution of the opening score. They bring up minor changes, like the addition of instruments and better sound quality, as the show got more popular. This certainly is an example of generous listening! With Sorkin’s extreme attention to detail comes the habit, or curse, of infinitely nit-picking minute flaws to making tiny alterations to his work. He admits that he has not completed a single piece of writing that he would want to re-write. However, Sorkin does not have time to do this while juggling multiple TV show scripts. He must “point the camera at his first draft.”
In the second assigned episode, Malina and Hirway interview the actress, Emily Proctor. She demonstrates a similar attentiveness to detail as Sorkin. She admits that as she watched herself in a scene where she delivers an argumentative monologue aimed at tearing down her opponent, played by Rob Lowe, that she felt disappointed. She regrets the tone of voice she used to delivered her final punch line. Malina and Hirway disagree. They believe she delivered it perfectly. Proctor also reveals that she and her co-star John Spencer would practice scenes outside of rehearsals. This also shows just how careful the actors were about how they delivered their lines.
These artists have an ear for generous listening and are able to pick up on subtleties that often go unnoticed by ordinary people. This translates into their inability to be 100% pleased with much of their work. I can strongly relate to this, as I often wish I could go back and re-do most of what I have written in college.
Do you guys think that generous listening is unpractical in the rush of our busy everyday lives? Or can we channel our inner Sorkin and incorporate generous listening into our own writing and into our future projects in this class?