"When I eventually met Mr. Right I had no idea that his first name was Always. "
- Rita Rudner
My wise and observant father-in-law, Henry Ware Hobbs, Jr. (1923-1993) once described a fellow attorney as "suffering from the delusion of certainty" and said of him, "He is frequently wrong, but never in doubt." Like Rita Rudner's Mr. Always Right, Henry's arrogant colleague was an insufferable boor and a lousy listener. He lacked the humility and curiosity required to listen well because he was not open to uncertainty, the possibility that he did not already know everything.
Henry, by contrast, was an exceptional listener because he was insatiably curious, especially in conversation. He yearned to uncover the other person's perspective, to see the world through their eyes. He was fascinated to discover what stories or insights would spring forth if he listened generously and energetically. He believed every person he met had something meaningful to teach him. For him, the focus of any discussion was what he was learning rather than what he already knew.
Henry was also humble. He recognized that as much as he already knew, he still had much to learn about the world, about people, and about himself. Regardless of any disparity in age, education, wealth, achievement, rank, status, or power, he saw others as fellow human travelers, each with unique experiences and remarkable brilliance. Henry was a world-class listener. As a result, he was constantly surrounded by an adoring circle of admirers from all walks of life. When he died unexpectedly, dozens of tearful people told us privately they considered Henry their dearest friend. What a rich legacy!