Everybody should eavesdrop once in a while…

1008px-Henri_Adolphe_Laissement_Kardinäle_im_Vorzimmer_1895Cardinals in the Halls of the Vatican by Henri Adolphe Laissement

“Everybody should eavesdrop once in a while. There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.” ― Thornton Wilder

Is it though? Is the world outside of your head different from that which lies within?

Yes and No.

It all depends on how you approach the world and experience yourself within it. On how much the world outside of your inner world affects your sense of who you are, your identity. On how much you need the world outside to be what you think it is.

“You are always living below the level of true existence, you bitter weed, you anthropomorphized vat of vinegar! You’re full of acid, which bubbles inside you like an alchemist’s brew. Your highest wish is to be able to see all around you the same ugliness as you carry inside yourself. That’s the only way you can feel for a few moments some kind of peace between yourself and the world. That’s because the world, which is beautiful, seems horrible to you, torments you and excludes you.” ― Milan Kundera

I wonder to whom Milan Kundera was addressing this rather cutting burst of words (and yes, I have no idea from whence this comes)? Was it from one character to another? Was one character the vessel of the author? If so, which character was the author and which the embodiment of someone else viewed through the author’s eyes? And was the speaker truly seeing the other person for who they were or projecting their own self onto them?

When you read a quote out of context, you’re eavesdropping on a snippet of a conversation. When you read the entire book in which the quote is contained and in context, you’re still eavesdropping on a conversation, you just have more of it upon which to eavesdrop.

When you surf the internet, read a blog post and perhaps the comments which are attached to the post, you’re eavesdropping, first on the writer of the post’s views, then on the views of those who read the post and interpreted it through their view of the world. Perhaps the writer of the post replies to the commenters and the commenters reply to the replies, and you can eavesdrop on an entire conversation… and if you choose to do so, you can then share your views too in a comment and someone else can eavesdrop on that.

Read a news article and follow the comment thread, eavesdropping.

Listen to a song, eavesdropping.

Watch a film or TV show, eavesdropping.

Sometimes even being a participant in a conversation is eavesdropping, because there is a fine line between dialogue and monologue, when someone who is talking to you forgets you are there and they’re talking at you and no longer with you, they are conversing with themselves and you become an eavesdropper of their internal dialogue.

There are times when everything feels like eavesdropping. You’re outside of it all like The Little Match Girl, eavesdropping with your eyes and sometimes ears on the lives of others, uncertain if what you see or hear is real or imagined. And others are doing the same with you.

I saw a brilliant film the other night – In The House (Dans La Maison) (2012) – which touched upon this, upon how fascinated we are by the lives of others, not necessarily because those lives and the people as they truly are are interesting to us, but because those lives represent something to us.



In the film a young man becomes obsessed with a family he has observed. They are the family he wishes he had, the perfect family, so much so that he insinuates himself into it, yet he remains an outsider even when inside. Eavesdropping.

He writes about this family and passes his writing on to his literature professor, who becomes fascinated by the young man and the family seen through the eyes of the young man.

Stories, fantasies, projections, perspectives become enmeshed until finding the line between what is real and fictional becomes impossible, as even the viewer is caught up in the game of projecting and imagining as an invited eavesdropper.

At one point the young man, having decided that he is in love with the mother of the family, meets with her in private (while the viewer eavesdrops, as does the literature professor through the young man’s retelling of the meeting) and professes his passion. She lets him speak, patient and understanding, then she gently returns his gift of love unopened.

Eavesdrop on their words:

Claude Garcia: But I love you.

Esther Artole: No. It’s not me you love. It’s an image. An image in your head.

The young man is reluctant to accept her truth. He is certain he knows who this woman is, better than she knows herself (ah, the arrogance) because he took the time to get to know her after his literature professor remarked to him that he was judging his characters, the people in the family, based on his own prejudices and version of reality. But even though he took the time to look beyond his judgments, his view was still more in his head than in those whom he thought he knew.

We all eavesdrop, whether we do it deliberately and consciously, or accidentally as a part of being a human in an ocean of other humans who live their lives all around us, and sometimes even invite us to eavesdrop without doing it openly. A subtle please listen to me, a raised voice in a quiet place, CAPS in a comment or tweet, please find me interesting enough to want to know what I say, do and feel, be a witness to my life.


What we get from eavesdropping…

It all depends on your purpose for eavesdropping and whether you actually hear what is being said within the context of the conversation rather than extracting snippets to confirm or deny that which you have been thinking and have constructed inside your mind as being a reality.

voices inside
This morning when I logged in to my blog I found that in the comment section of my About page two commenters had had a set-to while I was sleeping.

I eavesdropped on the disagreement, then deleted the comment thread.

Was that the correct decision? It was neither right nor wrong.

The disagreement was not about me, therefore it didn’t belong on my blog’s About page.

I doubt if they will understand my reason for deleting the comments, for that they would have to eavesdrop on my entire life and the world within me. Walk in my shoes until those shoes are worn.

But how can anyone do that when… they can’t take their own shoes off. None of us can, we are born into these shoes and must wear them whether they fit, pinch, hurt, or are comfortable and carry the weight of our body and world with ease.

Perhaps I should have a sign above my comment box which says – Please take your shoes off before entering my home.

But I don’t do that in real life, I don’t have white carpets or expect the floors to remain clean, wear and tear, dirt and dust is a part of life and living.

Occasionally people ask me if I would like them to take their shoes off before they enter my home… consideration is always appreciated, and because you are so considerate are you welcome to cross the threshold between the outside world and my inner world, and  you can leave your shoes on… but they are your responsibility and so is the dirt you bring in on their soles.

This post is in response to The Daily Post’s prompt: Talking in Your SleepHave you ever eavesdropped on a conversation you weren’t supposed to? Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?

How did eavesdropping on the disagreement in my comments make me feel?

Like going back to sleep… but my shoes had places to go.


  1. Eavesdropping is almost inevitable. People do it on purpose or accidentally, and it’s a choice. I eavesdrop all the time, when i can, living vicariously through others and getting relationship advice (do’s and do-not’s) as well as content for my fiction.

    People may get upset if they are listened to, but it’s their own fault for talking too loud, which is often the case. I often hope people listen to my conversations.


    • Other people and their lives are fascinating, and curiosity is key to learning, so eavesdropping is natural. It can be a way to get new information and expand our knowledge. It works positively, negatively and all the shades in between.

      When I was searching for images to go with the post I came across a tip for writers which encouraged eavesdropping. It suggested writing down the snippets of conversations which you overhear and then creating a story around it.

      I’ve caught myself occasionally talking extra loud in a public place because I wanted the strangers within earshot to be interested in me. That always makes me chuckle because it’s a very human need, but when I replay what I was saying which I thought others might be interested in… I want to slap my silly self. And it always makes me smile when I hear other people doing it, their voice gets a bit louder and they enunciate more, it’s like suddenly being in the audience of a play. I do listen because I’m curious to know what it is that is so important to them that they want others to hear it… helps me to understand why I do it too 🙂

      But if you really want someone’s ear to be curious, then the whisper is the magic power to use. Funny that, how clear words whispered are and how often words spoken loudly are hard to hear.


    • It’s an odd thing, because we do want other people to know us, and some people do take the time to get to know us as we are – which can be gratifying and unnerving, especially when they do actually know us almost as well as we know ourselves. When someone takes the time to know you, it shows they genuinely care and are making room in their mind for you. They are in some ways clearing out space in their cupboard for your belongings to be in there too, sharing the space they use for their own belongings.

      I think some people don’t like sharing that space, that space belongs to them and them alone, and so they decide who you are for you and tell themselves with conviction that they know who you are and everything about you because they can sum people up without needing to get to know them, to them all people are the same, they are the exception. You’re a memo, a list of traits, on a slip of paper stuffed into a pocket in one of their jackets. Their minds are filled with thoughts of themselves and they don’t have room for you other than as an addendum to themselves. And if you refuse to be who they’ve decided you are, they crumple that piece of paper up and throw it away, still believing that they are right about you and you don’t know yourself, but since you are to stupid to know that they don’t need your clutter in their cupboard.

      Or something like that 😉

      I enjoyed the film, it managed to suck me in and take me on a journey, and leave me with a smile on my face and much food for thought afterwards.

      Thank you 😀


  2. The movie was quite disturbing though..but it’s true it talks about an important misunderstanding in relationship as we can be playing a role we are not even aware of, just because we represent something to someone and it’s not ourselves.Very deep thought, Ursula.
    I loathe eavesdropping as my mother has done to me all her life in order to use information against me and pry into my privacy;there is another form of eavesdropping i have experienced at work, which is talking loud about you with a door ajar, so you know they are talking behind your back but you haven’t been invited in the conversation and you can stand for yourself, to me it’s manipulative and sadistic.


    • That – the conversation about you between others designed for you to overhear but not participate in it – reminds me of Droit de Reponse – the right to reply to accusations made against you in the media. To tell your side of the story. To give and get the opportunity for a balanced view, to have the whole story rather than just one side of it.

      When people do that, gossip about you and make you aware of it by making you an eavesdropper, they put you in a difficult position, and they know it. If you step into the conversation then you are seen as interrupting and interfering in something to which you were not invited, yet it is about you, so surely that makes it okay for you to step in and participate… yet by doing so you place yourself at a disadvantage. It’s designed that way. But if you don’t step in… then what? You are tacitly participating in the spreading of gossip about you without your side of the story being relevant to those who hear the gossip.

      It’s very complicated and dealing with it is complex and full of pitfalls.

      I too felt that way about my mother. She was invasive. If she thought I had a secret, she had to know what it was and couldn’t bear the thought that I had privacy. What was mine had to be hers. I recall once when she had a bad back and had to stay in bed, she dragged herself out of bed and all the way to my room because I had been spending too much time in my room – according to her – and my silence was driving her mad. I wasn’t actually doing anything other than homework and leaving her in peace to recuperate, but a narcissist’s mind is beset by intense paranoia.

      I do like eavesdropping, but not seeking anything connected with myself from it, just to observe others kind of like watching nature in its natural habitat. It can be a beautiful thing when done without an ego-inspired motive. To watch people interact and just enjoy it as is.

      It helps to see that sometimes when others eavesdrop on us and it isn’t always with an ulterior motive. They’re just observing in a detached way. Contemplating life in all its forms.

      It also aids in understanding how sometimes you’re just a figment in someone else’s story and imagination… you are not you to them. However you are you to you and their view of you does not belong to you and is not your problem.

      It was an intelligent film, which is my favourite kind 🙂


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