Listening to Clarisse

“Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I’ve known you so many years?”

“Because I like you,” she said, “and I don’t want anything from you.”

I’ve pulled this conversation from Ray Bradbury’s magnificent Fahrenheit 451. The speakers are the protagonist, Guy Montag, and a young woman he meets, Clarisse Maclellan.

Clarisse Maclellan exists in a world of her own. She listens, and, through her charm, she forces the reader to listen. She is utterly wholesome and pure. She’s too perfect. Clarisse Maclellan can’t possibly be real. Or can she?

It’s rare to meet someone like Clarisse. And frankly, when I do, it scares me. Normally, every human interaction holds an unseen message: hidden motives, unclear subtexts, or suppressed sexual desire. When someone is kind or vulnerable with me, I always assume they have an ulterior motive. I fear they want something from me, or, when I’m feeling most neurotic, I wonder if they want to trick me into admitting a deep dark secret.

I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me means talking to you about things like this. — Clarisse McClellan

I’d like to be more like Clarisse. I think listening is the best way to do this.

Like, really listening. It’s amazing how often people refuse to listen. When I see two people speaking, one talks and the other looks into space in such a way that you can tell he is not listening but rather collecting his thoughts in order to say something once the other person finally shuts up.

So I’m telling myself this: hear people’s stories, understand their points of view. Stop thinking about yourself for a minute. Especially that neurotic way of thinking about yourself – because nobody thinks about you as obsessively and negatively as you do.

And the cool thing is that, if you listen eagerly to what your partner is saying, she’ll feel accepted. Her mantle of self-consciousness will slip. It’s a win-win.

And yet, there’s no real way to know if someone you just met is a Clarisse Maclellan or a fraud. She might be lying; she might want something from you; she might not really like you at all.

But if there’s a chance that you could be speaking to a Clarisse Maclellan, talk to her. And listen. Because if someone really likes you and doesn’t want anything from you, she is a special person indeed.

You’re not like the others. I’ve seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that.

9 thoughts on “Listening to Clarisse

  1. It is not easy to know how to listen and hear what is being said and not what you think is being said or what you want to be said. Takes time to learn this but worth the time and effort…to understand the value of listening. Takes some people years to figure it out and here you are on your way. Good for you!

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  2. “nobody thinks about you as obsessively and negatively as you do.” Ain’t that the truth! I remember when I was a teenager coming across something which said “You would worry less what people thought of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Seems a bit harsh, but in reality it takes a lot of the pressure off.

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    • I love how harsh that is – it’s a harsh lesson! I lost these comments somehow, sorry – I’m still glad to read them months later, haha. Thank you as always for commenting. I love hearing your take.

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  3. It occurs to me that the art of conversation has been buried under one-way expression from TV, teachers, preachers, lecturers and everyone with an agenda. I would add that listening with an ear to understanding rather than refutation is the key to a good conversation or discussion.

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