Tone deafness isn’t just for music any more. Perhaps because of the incessant torrent of the internet, we might think we understand something better than we do. Or this may be what comes after years of what Linda Stone has called “continuous partial attention.” We’re all so busy that we don’t have time to think things through. I’ve run into several instances of tone deafness lately, where the sound comes not from music, but from a lack of considering the society. For example, Black Lives Matter. When I sometimes feel pressed upon by the fact that the mongrel peoples who came together to eventually deliver me benefitted from slavery I feel helpless. I can’t understand how Black folks feel, as much as I want to help. This can lead to tone deafness when I think I’m actually able to explain.
This also applies to other aspects of our lives. If someone we know is too busy, asking them to fit us into their schedule may be tone deafness. Unless we pick up on the many hints that “not this day, but that day might work” conveys, we tend to miss the point. I’m always amazed just how many people don’t pick up on the stress conveyed in such situations. Even professional service folk. You can almost hear them looking at their screens instead of the distressed look on your face. When we’re all too busy, ironically, the way to address this is to spend a little more time listening. Paying attention to someone else. The world won’t end if we do.
Short emails may show tone deafness as well. Those who send one or two word emails probably don’t realize how rude it seems on the receiving end. Perhaps they think it’s the same as texting. There’s a reason I don’t text. If someone is important enough for me to contact, I feel that I need to give them the required time. Look at them, not the screen. Try to hear the pitch they sing in, the cadence they use. People make beautiful music. Lives are symphonies. Do we really want to approach their performance preoccupied by what’s next on our agendas? I remember getting dressed up and going to a formal concert hall to listen to live music. I also remember sitting across a table or desk from someone with no devices, being listened to carefully. Even if it was a viva it was a wonderful feeling that someone was actually listening. Now what was it you were saying?