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Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Books

    FriendFeed, Twitter, email, Skype, Messenger, Blackberries and iPhones, blogs and e-zines.

    It’s all a little bit overwhelming sometimes, right? We’ve looked again and again at various ways to escape the barrage of online content so we can get more work done – but never so we can take a break and reconnect with other content. Perhaps, the kind that comes under the category of “literature.”

    Let’s face facts; there is some great content online, but there’s more rubbish. At least when you pick up a book in a bookstore, you know it’s been through a rigorous editorial process and most of the rubbish has been weeded out. Evidently, the keyword here is ‘most’ – just the other day I was at one of those huge chain bookstores where I noticed they were still selling copies of Dianetics!

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    While we are always in pursuit of the perfect way to manage and minimize our content intake, somewhat like the diet-crazed society of the second millennium, it’s important to realize that just as with food, quality is more important than quantity. If we cut down on the noise but have no signal, then there’s no point trying to begin with.

    And almost like the blogs in your feed reader, the bestseller list in the bookstore is constantly changing. But what if we had a collection of classics that have stood the test of time to prove their worth that could keep the signal high and the noise low? Here is one take on what that list might look like, bearing in mind that it would be hard to agree on and create a list that could be considered complete.

    Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey

    Homer’s works are sometimes considered introductory and prerequisite into the world of classic literature, and since they’re not light reading, you may as well start on a full stomach. An embodiment of the literature of ancient Greece, considered to be the forefather of modern Western thought, these epic poems speak through heroes to deliver very different messages. The Iliad, the story of Achilles, is about strength and brute force. The Odyssey is about a hero who relies on his mind, despite his strength, to win his battles.

    Plato, the Great Philosopher

    Perhaps one of the most often referenced philosophers of all time, Plato wrote important works that were often delivered through a dialogue in which a particular concept or issue was explored, in the style of his teacher Socrates. Plato’s works are broad-ranging, discussing everything from whether virtues can be taught, to the nature of justice.

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    Aristotle

    If you thought Plato had covered a varied list of topics, his student, Aristotle probably went further – in one treatise exploring biology and in another, aesthetics or politics. Aristotle was trained in medicine before he became a student of philosophy, so it’s understandable that where Plato put more importance in ideas, conceptualization, reason and intellect, Aristotle saw the world as physical reality, that can be dissected and researched. He was probably the grandfather of modern scientific bureaucrats – if it can’t be labeled by science, it doesn’t exist!

    The Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

    Moving on from the Greek era, Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who, in the inherent spare time that come with positions of high office, was also a writer. Machiavelli called him the last of the Five Good Emperors (theorizing that those who adopted the throne usually ran a good government, while those who inherited it ran a bad one). In his Meditations, written as a form of introspection for the sake of his own self-improvement, Aurelius promotes ideas such as that of human freedom and that virtue is to live in accord with nature.

    Perhaps most importantly is Aurelius’ idea that what makes us human is our mortality.

    The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer

    Some of the most famous storytelling of the medieval era is that of Geoffrey Chaucer, not so long ago revived in the movie A Knight’s Tale (in which Chaucer is made a character). The movie is based on The Knight’s Tale, the second tale from The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stores written in poetry and prose. Some scholars contend that this is the work that marked the tipping point when English overtook French as the Western world’s primary literary language.

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    Machiavelli’s The Prince

    In our latte-sipping, iPhone-swinging world Machiavelli would’ve had one heck of a scented resume, wearing a multitude of hats – diplomat, philosopher, musician, poet and playwright, and a central figure in the Italian Renaissance. He is best known for his classic work The Prince. It explores Machiavelli’s ideas on political theory, which place a high priority on maintaining stability above all else. A book on politics, theory, and practicality that the clever can apply to many areas of their lives – including productivity.

    The Bard, William Shakespeare

    As soon as I mentioned classic literature you saw this name coming; Shakespeare is either synonymous with it, or he is it! Shakespeare wrote tragic love stories in the masterpiece that has become a modern cliche for romance – Romeo and Juliet – and slapstick in works such as The Comedy of Errors. While he wasn’t the icon he is today while he was still alive, Shakespeare remains relevant because it was written timelessly; at one level or another, his plays are about humanity and its nature.

    Milton’s Paradise Lost

    John Milton was a civil servant for England in the 16th century on one hand, but on another a writer of poet and prose. He condemned censorship, a problem then and now, in Areopagitica, but his most famous work is the epic Paradise Lost. In this book Milton romanticized the fallen angel and looked at the ancient story from a different perspective, the character Lucifer becoming a big influence on Byron’s characterizations. For the modern reader who is looking for material that assists in the field of personal development, this book could provide some food for thought on the topics of individuality and freedom.

    War and Peace by Tolstoy

    Bemoaned for its length, which is epic in and of itself, War and Peace was written by Russian writer and count Leo Tolstoy, and is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of literature (like everything else in this list). War and Peace has broad and sweeping themes of giant proportion including, of course, war and peace, as well as other facts of life; aging, youth, and relationships. It is unique from many of the other Western classics presented since it came from a Russian count, and a totally different culture.

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    These are only a few classics that are part of a very long history of deserving titles, but these are some of the most well-respected in history – not to mention more than enough to get you started and keep you busy for a long while.

    And when you’re done, you can fire up that feed reader again!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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