Niagara Gazette

June 21, 2013

HAMILTON: Because we hear what we want and expect to hear

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — How did you like President Obama’s Berlin speech?

Did you hear what you expected to hear and what both your ears and your heart was tuned to hear?

I heard a speaker on television the other day claiming that in a park full of playing children that he could distinguish the sound of his children’s laughter or cries from those of all of the other children.

It took me a second to process that; but then I flashed back to when I was dating a woman whose toddling child was at the children’s hospital in Buffalo — this, before I had children. I took her to visit the child; and as we took the elevator to the child’s floor, when the doors opened, there was a cacophony of laughter and cries. I was surprised when she immediately turned to me and said that her baby was crying.

Half of the children on that floor were crying! Then the mother turned and darted toward her child’s room. I followed; and sure enough, the child’s face was wet with tears; and he was comforted by her presence as she reached into the crib to retrieve him. The mother knew her baby’s cry, even when those cries were mingled with the cries of so many others. But, as she knew her baby, she would have also expected him to have been crying under the conditions of separation and hospitalization.

But placement is a part of recognition, too; and that is consistent with expectation. It was so in the case of the mother, and in so many other things.

During my divorce, the ex- and the kids just happened to have been parking at the same store at the same time as I. I did not expect that; and even though I loved my babies with all of my heart, had tickled them a thousand times, changed their diapers and fed them and heard them both laugh and cry, I still did not recognize the two little boys who were running toward me with outstretched arms in the parking lot of that store. It was not until they were right upon me and I could clearly see their faces that I recognized who they were. They leaped into my arms and we hugged.

We hear those things that our hearts and ears are attuned, and we hear them best where we expect to hear them. That’s why we listen to certain news stations, watch certain television programs, go to certain churches, have certain friends, are a part of certain political parties and such; and hear just what we want to hear them say – this regardless of what they really say.

There were other crying children in that child’s hospital room, too. The woman focused only on her own child. As she held him, I gave him a hug, too; and then I went about the room retrieving the toys that had fallen out of the other children’s cribs. I smiled at them as I handed those toys to them. They stopped their crying, too.

I guess we all are looking for someone or something seemingly that hears us above the rest of the crowd, and then somehow makes us feel that they care.

A few hours later, when the mother and I left the room, got on the elevator and the doors closed, as the hum of the descending elevator separated her from the very same cries that she had heard when we had first arrived, she sadly looked at me.

Moments later, we all felt better – the baby who had both seen and was held by its mother; the mother for holding the baby; and I, for making the moment possible by taking her there and for helping the other children by retrieving their toys and showing them that somebody cared about them, too; if but for a moment.

It is because we hear what we want and expect to hear, whether we like it or not – even in Obama’s speech.

Contact Ken Hamilton at

Contact Ken Hamilton at