Navigation Menu+

Selective Hearing

Posted on Aug 1, 2015

I’m sure we’ve all heard parents complain about their kids having “selective hearing”, when they only tune in and/or answer if they like what is being said. For example, “Johnny, go clean your room!” may be completely ignored, whereas “Johnny, can I give you $100 just for being you?” would snap their eyes in your direction immediately! 

I’ve often joked to people about my own kids doing this, but only if they are there to witness it. Like when we’re at the park and it’s time to go, my kids have learned that they get to stay longer if they pretend they didn’t hear me. As much as I’ve tried to train them, they still insist on having their own mind! Blasted children!!! It must be something about my tone – they can tell when I really mean it. Usually when I really need to leave the park, there is a good reason – a friend is coming over, we have to be someplace, whatever. But if I have no REAL reason for wanting to leave – I’m just bored or my iPhone battery is running low or I’m hot/cold/hungry – the little rascals can usually squeeze another 20 minutes out simply by ignoring me. Other parents will look at me questioningly and I shake my head. I sigh “Selective hearing!” and we chuckle.

Well, as it turns out, THEY are not the only culprits. Nay, I have proof that this skill is honed as we age, and adults are experts at it! At least, some are. Anyone in particular? Hmmmm… maybe…

My husband? Yes, there’s no question. He will stealthily avoid answering “did you eat all the chocolate chips?” by pretending he didn’t hear me. Requests to fold the laundry will be steadfastly unheard. But if I whisper “want a beer?” with my head shoved inside the open refrigerator, he can hear me from 20 feet away! When one of the children is yelling to him about something that he doesn’t want to answer, he pretends to answer them but actually yells gobbledygook back at them. It sounds like he’s saying actual words because he puts inflection in the sentence, but actually what he’s saying is something nonsensical like “wuwa na muntros seesop?” The kids just think they can’t hear him so they come running. Brilliant!

Aah, but even HE is not the master. No. Today I realized that I – the matriarch of my little clan – am the sneakiest user of this tactic. I have acquired the ability to make a decision within a nanosecond when someone speaks – “is THIS something I need to acknowledge?” my brain asks. Within milliseconds I can determine what will happen if I answer/don’t answer, and what the fallout may be. It’s uncanny!

The thing that lead to this realization is this: I had to move the swing set back to where it was. It only had to be moved about 5 feet, but it had to be pivoted. When we moved it last week to do some work, we moved it together. It was easy and quick, the set is very light. I’ve moved this set a dozen times on my own, and I’ve never had a problem – I just press it up over my head from the middle and move it. But today I had the added complication of having to pivot, which makes it rock a bit and the ends tend to hit the ground, making it jerk. Through the window, I knew that he could clearly see me struggling with it. But I was NOT going to ask him for help. So when he yelled through the open door (from his chair) “do you want some help?”, I selected NOT to hear him. In that nanosecond, I played the scenario in my head: if I answer yes, I will be inconveniencing him, and also admitting that I could use some help; if I answer no, I will not get any help and he will continue to watch me struggle, and perhaps snigger and shake his head at me (and though I could neither see nor hear him do that, just knowing that he might was enough to make me mad!)

So I said nothing. I acted like I didn’t hear him. He did exactly what I knew he would do: he got up and came outside. Heh, heh. And now he was already up, so when he asked “do you want me to help you with that?” I shrugged and said “sure!” as if that’s the first I’d heard of it. You see, it’s very important to let people think it’s THEIR idea to do something, even though you pointed them in the direction and shoved them. Hard.

After snickering about my (ridiculous) win, I thought about all of the times I have selective hearing. There are dozens. I actually do it ALL the time, I just never realized it. Like when a friend asks me something that I don’t want to answer, I walk away or just change the subject like I didn’t hear them. Or when I’m listening to the radio and singing along but I don’t know some of the words, I pretend I wasn’t listening to that part of the song (my mind wandered, my phone pinged, etc.) I even do this when I’m at home, alone, singing to the radio when NO ONE else can hear me. That’s how ingrained and passive this ridiculousness is – I do it without thinking! And when my children are yelling for someone to wipe their bum or kill a mosquito, sometimes I don’t hear that either. I especially don’t hear it if I’m cleaning the kitchen and Dad is watching Netflix. 

I suspect everyone reading this post has selective hearing multiple times per day, they just haven’t admitted it (perhaps even to themselves). But just so you know, it’s not going to work on me. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. Usually. I have a friend staying with us this weekend who is literally deaf in one ear, so sometimes I have to yell or get her attention before saying something important. You can tell that the blank stare is not devious – she is genuinely surprised when she hears words coming out of my mouth! Plus she’s a lousy liar, so when she DOES try to BS me, she starts smiling, even when she’s pretending she didn’t hear me.

My husband told me a funny story today. He was listening to the Peak yesterday and the afternoon DJ was talking about the Big Fat Gay Wedding that is happening this weekend. The DJ gave some details – Vance Joy is singing, Mayor Gregor Robertson is officiating – and then said “it doesn’t get any gayer than that!” Uh… what?? He was stunned for a few seconds, then he instantly felt bad for that DJ. He knew that the guy hadn’t meant anything derogatory with that remark, but he could face a social media backlash that could jeopardize his job. So my husband, bless his sane, understanding heart, is going to “selectively un-hear” that remark and pretend it never happened. Cool.

Selective hearing: it’s not just for kids and seniors anymore!