I’ve never really been one to say much. Sure, there is the occasional time during which I get excited when someone starts a conversation about cars or tennis or math, but otherwise, I don’t really talk. Although, this wasn’t always the case. When I was little, I was always the loudest kid in the room. I would talk constantly, surely annoying every poor soul who had to listen to me blabbering on. This shift from talking incessantly to barely saying a word unless provoked was more a gradual one. But, it was a good one. As I said less and less, I began to listen more and more. And listening is the best way to obtain information. So, rather than distracting people with my endless blabbering, I began to educate myself. And this is something I would urge all of you to do: listen.
We’ve known that listening is important from the start. Why do teachers separate students who talk too much during class? Because they aren’t listening. Why do coaches shame the kids who don’t know how to do the drill? Because they weren’t listening. Why do parents shout from time to time? So that their kids listen. Listening is the only way we obtain information, and information is at the basis of what you need to succeed. Last Thanksgiving, my family decided to have dinner/lunch/turkey at Cafe Eccell (weird, right?). My parents had a guest over from England, and he was a professor in London who worked with Statistics. I was just in the middle of my application process for Oxford, and since he was familiar with the English system, we thought he would be able to give me some suggestions. Unfortunately, he couldn’t really, at least not for the application process itself. But what he did tell me was that in mathematics, all it takes is a whole lot of work. And why is that? Because all you really need to know is the information. There are a whole bunch of students who simply aren’t successful not because they aren’t brilliant, but because they don’t know the information. This is why listening is so important. You don’t need to be a genius to be successful; all you really need is the information. And the easiest way to get the information is by listening.
These days, the rapidly advancing mobile phone industry is taking over our lives. Now there are watches that can essentially act as phones, turning once basic tools into distraction machines. If you have ever been to any event where a speaker is giving a speech, including this one, you’ll probably notice there are a significant number of audience members on their phones. These phones are not only impeding our ability to listen when we’re using them, they also kill our attention span outside of the time we use them. For those of you fortunate enough to remember that wondrous piece of literature called The Shallows, you are already well acquainted with this phenomenon. For those of you that aren’t, personal experience should suffice in explaining this harmful fact of the tech world we live in. Sometimes I have the bad tendency of completely losing my train of thought mid-sentence. For those of you that have witnessed this, it leaves me staring wide-eyed and with open mouth into space. This never used to happen. It only started happening a few years ago, when I got my hands on a smartphone for the first time. All those notifications and hyperlinks mean you can never pay attention to a single thing. And as your brain is programmed to purposefully distract itself through these notifications and hyperlinks on your phone, it will do the same away from your phone. The reason I mention these phones is that this technological frenzy is only going to get worse in destroying your ability to listen. And it is only if you recognize it now that you will be able to do something about it.
Throughout my two years here at Consol, I’ve tutored a fair number of students. I rarely get frustrated, but the thing that frustrates me most is those students that just want me to tell them how to solve the one problem they’re having trouble with. They say, “Yeah, just tell me how to solve this one, and I’ll be set.” Then when I solve it, they say thanks. And just to make sure they actually know what they’re doing, I’ll ask them to solve a similar problem with a slight tweak. Of course, many of them unfortunately can’t. When I show them that it was almost identical to the one I just solved for them, they complain, “But I only need to solve the homework problems, and this one isn’t on the homework.” I tell them, “Okay, but how are you going to be ready for the test when you can’t solve a problem almost identical to the homework problems.” They say, “I’m ready for the test, I solved all the homework problems.” “Sure, but that’s not the point. Just because you can solve the homework problems doesn’t mean you know that material. Go ahead and memorize all the homework problems, it won’t help you one bit. The point is that you understand and know the material, then use your knowledge to solve the problems, and your solutions to the problems certify you knowledge.” They then generally say “Oh” and walk away.
Although this is maybe not as universally applicable as the necessity of listening, it is still important to all of you that are going into anything academic. Know the material. Live the material. Breathe the material. Let the material become a part of you. Don’t memorize. You will have forgotten it all in a heartbeat. Have you heard that cleanly shaven guy on the youtube commercials with the Lamborghini but also the shelves upon shelves of books? He always says knowledge is the key to success. In many ways he is right. Listen to obtain the knowledge. Then understand to retain it.