The art of listening: Words of wisdom from Mark… Twain, not me.

Mark Twain.

I love this dude. I’ve never read his books, but I still love him like a fat kid loves cake.

This love has formed purely on the basis of a google search “Mark Twain quotes”, and some Wikipedia-ering. I can’t tell you how I came about googling Mark Twain, because, you know… it’s the internet… I start online with good intentions, for example, browsing for a book to buy. Thirty minutes later I’m looking at cat videos.

Two quotes of Mark Twain’s struck particular accord with me, and I’d like to write something about each one. However, first some tidbits about the man (thanks Wikipedia).

  • Before turning to writing [Mark] served an apprenticeship with a printer, worked as a typesetter, and as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River.
  • His birth name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain his pen name).
  • He is the author of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’.
  • Twain earnt significant sums money from his writings and lectures.
  • Twain filed for bankruptcy after he lost all his money by investing in failed ventures (he lost in today’s dollars the equivalent of $8m investing in a new type-setter machine that went bust).
  • A man named Henry Huttleston Rogers eventually got Twain out of bankruptcy by agreeing to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, even after he had no legal responsibility to do so.
  • He has an epic moustache.

Reading his quotes gives me the sense that he was a man of extraordinary depth, wisdom, and wit (“the report of my death was an exaggeration”). Here’s a handful of my personal favourites:


I implore you to google him yourself (I’ve done this for you here), and to browse through his quotes until you’ve read them all.

Two quotes felt like lightning bolts when I read them. It was as if Zeus himself, sitting on his perch atop the kingdom of gods, had thrown bolts of wisdom at me and landed a direct hit:


Lying is hard work. It may come more naturally to some than others, but there is no denying it’s difficultly. It requires that you remember:

  • who you lied to;
  • what you lied about; and
  • why you lied (i.e. what you hoped to achieve from the lie – it’s usually something to do with PMS – not menstruation, but Power, Money and Sex).

This can get really tricky when different lies are told to different people for different reasons. I often lack the mental strength to remember what I ate for breakfast. Lying sure seems a difficult proposition.

Lies can sometimes spiral out of control such that the owner of the initial nonsense forgets why it was he made the nonsense up in the first place. At this point it might as well be truth as a habit has formed. I’ve been there before. I used to tell this ridiculous raccoon story, about how at age ten while visiting the United States a raccoon had jumped out in front of me. I don’t know why I told the story in the first place, I just remember that people liked the story, and that made me feel good. And so, I’d tell it more, knowing full well that it was a lie. Luckily it was a fairly harmless lie since it did not affect any other person, or any other thing. However, what frightened me was the more I told it, the more I started to believe it. Now, with an additional nineteen years of memories, I’m honestly not sure whether at age ten I saw a raccoon or not…

Now if I tell the raccoon story it might go something like this:

At age ten I think I made up a story about seeing a raccoon when I visited the US, because, you know, it was cool. But you know what’s odd, I don’t actually know for sure whether I made it up or not. I might’ve seen the raccoon. I honestly can’t remember.

That’s the truth. It’s definitely not a dinner table worthy yarn, but I think there’s a moral to be gained. Find out whatever it is you’re lying to yourself about right now. Otherwise, some years down the road, it may just become your truth.

Fortunately, there’s a simple remedy to the disease of lying: Just be honest: You’ll never have to remember a thing. Thank you Mr Twain.


Recently I was doing some swiping on Bumble (it’s a dating app). The swiping lead to a match. My match-ette (a feminine term I’ve conjured for dating app matches – doubt it will catch on, too similar looking to machete) proceeded to send me a very warm and seemingly genuine message. For those that haven’t used Bumble, receiving a warm or genuine message on Bumble is like witnessing an elephant flying in the North Pole. This is because social convention restricts conversations on Bumble to the following topics:

  • Pick-up lines cheesier than an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie;
  • Un-punny puns (hah! Get it? Punny = Funny.); and my personal favourite
  • ‘Heeey’

Before I share the message, it’s important to know what’s written on my Bumble profile. It’s three sentences. One of these sentences is actually just a list: shit I like to do (hiking, reading, basketball, coffee), and shit I think I am (poker player, traveller, kiwi). Another sentence asks for something so impossibly unreasonable that I don’t know why it’s still in there: ‘looking for genuine souls to hang with’. And the final sentence, which structurally speaking provides the meat within my spicy Bumble profile sandwich is this:

“Firm believer that everyone has something to teach you”.

Now that you’ve been given an idea as to how I’m going about trying to find love in a world of profile pictures, instagram feeds, fake news, and fake boobs, you may be able to see why I’m still single. If not, I’ll tell you: it’s because I’m a cave troll who never goes on dates – got to sow the seeds if you want to harvest the crops!

Unlike on Tinder, on Bumble if you match with someone, the female MUST message the male first; the male, by restriction of the app, is unable to message the female until she has made first contact.  This has two advantages, one for each gender. I’ll let you guess which number benefits which gender:

  1. Egoic structures that’ve existed for thousands of years are kept intact by limiting the instances of rejection; and
  2. The frequency at which unsolicited dick-pics are received is greatly reduced.

The message I received from seemingly genuine soul ‘Lira’ was this:

“The part where you mention that you’re a firm believer that everyone has something to teach you actually caught my attention. I gotta agree with that. There is always a reason why you cross paths with someone, despite it being a good or bad experience.”

Fucking word Lira. Word.

So… what does this all have to do with Mark Twain’s quote? Well, actually, nothing. I just wanted to tell you, in a convoluted way, that I got a match on Bumble. Ego-booster baby!

In all seriousness, my take is quite simple: he means what he says…

The operative word in his quote is listening. I believe, like Lira, that everyone has something to teach you; but only if you’re listening.

We all want to be heard, of that I have no doubt. In our quest to be heard we share with each other our opinions, beliefs, theories, insights, desires, fears, etc. Something a very few know, which is actually quite obvious when you think about it, is that if you’re not listening it’s hard to hear.

So often when we interact with each other we will struggle to find the right words to say. There are many reasons for this. For example, the same word may have two completely different meanings due to the context in which it is used, or due to the person who we are (our upbringing, personal experiences, gender, ethnicity, what-have-you). Another reason we may struggle to find the right words is because we may not be clear within ourselves about what it is exactly we are trying to say.

I’ve noticed people often do not listen to one-another. They listen to themselves instead of the person that’s talking to them. Their focus is on their own internal dialogue, which is often pre-occupied with figuring out how best to respond…

Newsflash: Figuring out how to respond is not listening!

The gender-equality debate is somewhere I see this issue frequently…

I’m not going to pretend my hands are clean; but I’m trying.

You may agree with me, you may not. That honestly doesn’t matter, provided you’re listening.







2 thoughts on “The art of listening: Words of wisdom from Mark… Twain, not me.”

  1. Thank you Penny 🙂

    He seems an extremely wise man, I love reading his quotes and have revisited them multiple times – I can read the same ones over and over again! I agree with you – I must find time to read his works as well.

    And thank you for the follow back 🙂


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