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Learn to listen

POSTED: April 19, 2014 12:00 p.m.

I have always said that one of my favorite parts of this job is getting to see high school students fulfill their dreams by signing college scholarships, and that is very true, but there is one other element that can trump anything.

I love talking to people, especially interesting and amiable people. This job has afforded me the opportunity to talk to some wonderful people, especially over the last week.

On Wednesday, I had the chance to talk to most of Barrow County through a radio show on WJBB 1300 AM (shameless plug), and that was an absolute blast. I enjoy talking about sports, and Chris made for a wonderful conversation about college athletes and Waffle House tipping.

Thursday at the Region 8-AAAAA track meet I met a man who lives in Dubai (yes, Dubai) but came back to see his daughter race. He also happens to be a retired police officer who is an amateur sports photographer, which is a fantastic combination. His daughter runs for one of the “other” schools in the region, though, but he was still cool.

I have talked to coaches and officials and athletic directors and players all, and they’re each unique and interesting in the questions you can ask them, but none of them compare to the gentleman I had the chance to speak to on Good Friday, and by now I hope you have already enjoyed the article that came from that conversation, but I could not pass up one more opportunity to talk about how simply wonderful our time together was.

You see, what made Mr. Smith such a fine conversationalist was that he somehow managed to avoid making an interview with him just all about him. Ted Smith, an 85-year old man who is training to run another Peachtree Road Race and could win his age group, wanted to talk about life  and what it means to help people. He wanted to talk about the things he’s learned.

For goodness sakes, he wouldn’t let me call him Dr. Smith after I found out he held a doctorate in education for some truly incredible work.

I’ve known people who would just as soon spit on you if you forgot to call them “doctor,” and the earnest humility of this man is the mark of a truly great competitor.

You see, there is a trend among athletes today, though I gather it’s been true for as long as people have competed, that you have to be your own greatest promoter. Some people will even tell you their accolades before they tell you their name.

Listen to me, folks. That’s no way to live.

Do you know what happens when you spend most of your time talking about yourself? Nobody else wants to talk about you. Plain and simple.

Had I walked in on Friday afternoon and found a man who was all hopped up on his own doings, I can promise you that there would be no column about him, and he probably wouldn’t be all that prominent in Sunday’s paper. However, I will admit it. Ted Smith dazzled me. He charmed me.

You know what happens when you don’t talk about yourself and you let other people do it? Other people will talk about you even more. I’ve always lived by this philosophy, and Mr. Ted Smith is a paragon of this truth: the less he is infatuated with himself, the more enamored I am with him.

Ted Smith didn’t call me to set up the interview, either, but rather a staffer at Magnolia Estates who had heard about his achievements and wanted people to know about them. So, even more people are talking about him.

Something else amazed me while we talked, and that was how he stopped the interview to find out more about me. He wanted to know where I went to school and where my life was. He asked me about my past and about what made me who I was.

Again, he openly discussed his many achievements and his remarkable life, and it is remarkable, but he never gave way to self-aggrandizing. He was always good humored and humble.

Although my advice is not just suitable for athletes, but really for anyone who needs to hear it, take a lesson from Ted Smith: It is better to take the lower seat at the table and be honored than to take the highest seat and be asked to move for someone else.

When given the chance to praise yourself or let someone else do it for you, always give way to someone else, because you know what happens when you let other people talk? You just might learn something you never expected to learn, and you just might meet a truly special person.

You already know you pretty well, right? So why do you need to talk about you anymore? Talk about someone else for a change. You never know who you might meet.



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