Photograph by Leslie Lindell.

The everyday activities of the 21st century human consist largely of staring at screens, typing, and talking—in that order. From Google to Alexa to email, technology teaches us to seek, to search, to ask, to demand.

But what about the lost art of listening? This episode explores empathy—and how looking up from your phone, talking to strangers, saying hello to a neighbor—can expand your imagination and your world.

My guest is the graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton, who makes an art of listening to—and profiling—people from unsung communities. As she does in her book Meanwhile in San Francisco, a love letter to the patchwork personalities of the Bay Area, and on a regular basis for the back page of California Sunday Magazine.

We talk about the huge mindset shifts that can happen when you let down your guard and truly open yourself up to other people’s experiences.

Key takeaways from the conversation:

  • Why listening is a form of empowerment
  • How to bring more empathy and imagination into your daily interactions
  • The benefits of shutting up and taking the spotlight off yourself
  • How drawing can help you listen better and hone your attention
  • Little ways to jumpstart conversations with strangers

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Favorite Quotes

“We’re all moving around with ourselves at the center. We’re doing things because of what we want, and where we’re going, and what we’re thinking about. And very rarely do we make a big effort to stop and think about the people around us, and what their experience of the same moments might be. And when we do that, our idea about the whole universe can shift.”

“A sketchbook for me is like this empowerment cloak. I feel much less vulnerable, less insecure, and less afraid when I’m holding my sketchbook. I have a sense of purpose.”

“Drawing is a form of listening. When I draw somebody, I pay very deep, slow attention to them. I notice details about their jawline, or their shirt, or their stance, or how they’re wearing their bag, things like that say a lot. But it’s quietly said, and it’s things that I don’t pay attention to unless I’m drawing.”


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A quick list of the books, quotes, and artworks that we discuss:

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