Stop, look and listen, baby. By the time Elvis Presley bellowed this lyric on his forgettable track “Rubberneckin’” in 1970, his transformation from America’s heartthrob into looking like Captain Kirk’s pet turtle was well underway.
Granted, Elvis didn’t pen his own lyrics, and in all likelihood this song was just another ode to his own penchant for making love. However, if we take the chorus lyric at face value, it can be interpreted more like a simple exposure of a lost social value that has left our ability to communicate with one another as strung-out and vacant as Elvis himself when he sat dead on the toilet seven years after the release of “Rubberneckin’.”
That is, at the College of William and Mary, we like to talk about ourselves incessantly. What we should really do is take the advice of the King: stop talking, look into the eyes of another and listen to what that other person has to say.
In reality, our campus is nothing but a microcosm of a far more expansive sociological crisis that been unfurling for years, while social media and the covetous nature of modern job markets continues to drive a dagger into the heart of interpersonal bonding by making us increasingly self-absorbed by the day.
But here at the College, where the stakes are not so high, it’s worthy of attention. I first noticed it when a friend told me she felt I didn’t listen to her. It really ate me up because I realized she was right. I’d formed a bad habit of interrupting; what a rotten thing to do to someone you deem to be a friend. Something else also came to mind. This same friend had rarely, if ever, asked me a question beyond the standard orientation elevator-interview prompts like “Where are you from?” and “Did you play any sports in high school?”
Between my anti-contextual blurting and her lack of interest in exploring my perspective, our development as friends came to a grinding halt due to a simple communication breakdown. It wasn’t just us, though. If only Elvis were retroactively docked one prescription pill each time somebody at the College began a sentence with “I” or “Me,” he might’ve lived long enough to see himself become a meme.
The sad part is the only instance students do choose to listen involves a set of once-pristine pearly white AirPods that are now caked in brain-cell-powdered ear wax. We have an uncanny knack for separating ourselves by way of selective hearing. The author of this article can’t even walk to class without beaming New Order’s “Leave Me Alone” through the canvas of his ear drums. How ironic. What can I say? The bassline is groovy.
Also, music is the best way to shut yourself off from the world because it doesn’t care about you. Meanwhile, to everyone else, you’re just another narcissistic twit who just can’t look away from your own reflection in a Snapchat-filtered mirror.
The institution is not blameless. We’re taught to cherish Ted Talks and the Tommy Oranges of the world. The highest mark of human achievement could only manifest itself as earning the right to blabber about whatever ad nauseam.
Don’t get me wrong, public speech is an effective technique when it comes to the mass communication of important ideas. But last time I checked, we also teach physics here at the College. “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” Ring any bells? Why not take the same approach to listening? Why not teach listening as a skill rather than a chore? Making that 10 percent participation grade for speaking up in class always felt more like a chore than a skill anyway.
Still, I digress. It’s important to be able to talk. I just wonder why the scale between speaking and listening is so off-balance. We should be calling equal attention to both, teaching each as an invaluable skill. After all, Elvis never needed to take a class at Toastmasters, and he’s way cooler than any of us will ever be on our own.
Email Matthew Kortan at