“Chicho” and the ability to listen. By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, CSP.

“Chicho” and the ability to listen.
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, CSP.

The more I hear the political controversies that pollute our lives, the more convinced I am that we suffer an inborn or learned inability to listen, and to be able to listen, one must jump out of one’s shoes and into the person’s we are having the conversation with. But don’t feel bad, this malady is not the purview of the electoral battles in the United States alone. The same is true for most conflicts between nations, religious beliefs, and even cultures, past and present.

To prove my point about that reality, I feel I must use examples where the contrary seems to be working. I will try. I never trust a groundhog’s instinct to help me withstand the cold and snowy months. Dreaming about the warmth of the approaching summer months triggers many memories.

Years ago, actually, during my adolescence, my family used to spend summers at a beach resort west of Havana called Baracoa. I believe I have written about that experience before. We used to rent a house during the summer months and shared the expenses with the family of a cousin of my father called Rodolfo, friendly nicknamed “Chicho” by most of the people who knew him. His granddaughters lovingly called him Pachichi. “Pa” for Papa and “Chichi” for Chicho. What a great tribute!

“Chicho” was in his late thirties, his face was youngish, but his early white hair gave him the impression of being a much older man. He was good natured, always smiling and building jokes when it was necessary and no one else did. He loved building things and playing with electricity. The well-known “Popular Mechanic” magazine was always close to him, and not too far away was always a project of the moment that kept him busy and his friends excited.

One such project happened to be a kayak. At Baracoa, the sight of his kayak became the entertainment of most of his children’s friends and Chicho’s proudest construction. He might as well have called himself a naval engineer because the sight of his kayak’s bow breaking the furious waves facing it as it sailed the beach loaded with some of his enthusiastic navigators was the best evidence of his skills.

But there was more to “Chicho” than sailing. He was also a telegraphist. While boats and kayaks cost him money, working the telegraph at a train station in Alquizar, the town where he lived, provided the earning capacity he and his family needed to have a comfortable life.

Telegraphists in those years had to be good listeners. Operating a telegraph required several skill sets. The telegraphist needed to be able to listen to and interpret incoming messages converting telegraph code into meaningful text to relay to the intended recipient. They also needed to encode and send messages out, and in some cases also relayed messages along the telegraph line.

If you had ever heard the constant tapping of Morse Code messages that went with each telegraph message you would know the reasons. Created in the 1830s by Samuel F.B. Morse, in its heyday Morse code was a common, standardized method of communication used by the military, amateur radio operators, translators, and others and gave anyone the ability to converse directly with someone over great distances. The railroad stations, where “Chicho” worked, used it extensively as well.

The Morse Coded messages are a combination of short dot taps and long dash taps: “.  . – – . .”, that make the letters and words. The combination and sequence of those taps make up the letters of the messages transmitted. Sitting next to the telegraph machines all day long would bore or bother most people. Each message is composed of coded parts: the recipient of the message, the start of the message, and the end of the message. If there was no transmission on the channel, silence would follow until a new three-part message came again. The telegraphist had to be able to identify those messages sent to his station and those that simply went through. Do you see how important it was to be a good alert listener during the process?

“Chicho” extended his skill as a constantly listening telegraphist of dots and dashes to listening to people’s needs and he never lacked friends; nor were his friends lacking his attention either. Today, technology has supplanted the telegraph with sophisticated communication systems, and we have also taken advantage of so-called smartphones to send messages to each other. But when I sit at a doctor’s office and see patients sitting next to each other without even saying hello and looking hypnotic-like at the screens of their smartphones, I wonder who the smart participant in that combination is. I then remember “Chicho” and his unquestioned ability to listen. We need more of them.

And that is my point of view today. So Long.

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