Howard Binkow is an old friend of India Supera and a former Feathered Pipe Foundation Board Member. At 88 years old, his life is dedicated to the subject of listening, and he has been a listener in training for 28 years.
Howard has had several careers in his lifetime: a home builder, radio host, sales person, author, publisher and currently CEO of the We Do Listen Foundation, a 501c3 that empowers children to become better listeners through a series of books, animations and songs based on the adventures of the Howard B. Wigglebottom and Wonder Kitty characters. With the help of Reverend Ana Volinski, Howard has co-created 17 children’s books, which have been translated into Chinese, Korean and French and have sold over 2.5 million print copies.
In today’s conversation, we focus on the two pillars of listening that he learned from author Steven Covey: “Seek first to understand before being understood” and “be present.” He walks us through his journey of chasing money to chasing meaning, a midlife crisis that led him into the woods of Michigan for a two-year isolated retreat, and eventually to the work that he does today: visiting schools, reading his books to 4-7 year olds and introducing them to the concepts of listening that he believes will help them grow into receptive, caring and balanced adults.
Howard speaks from his own experience of awakening as a 60-year-old man, recognizing that his entire life, he equated listening with obedience and doing as he was told in order to escape punishment, whether at home, school or work. Now, as an apprentice to the art of listening, he says the practice has improved his relationships, finances, free time and fulfillment.
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Andy Vantrease (00:17):
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living, a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that help them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community, and empowerment.
Hi friends. Welcome back to another episode of the Dandelion Effect podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease, and today I’m talking with Howard Binkow. Howard is an old friend of India Supera, and a former Feathered Pipe Foundation board member. At 88 years old, his life is dedicated to the subject of listening, and he has been a listener in training for 28 years. Howard has had several careers in his lifetime, a home builder, radio host, salesperson, author, publisher, and currently CEO of the We Do Listen Foundation, A 5 0 1 C three that empowers children to become better listeners through a series of books, animations, and songs based on the adventures of the Howard B. Wigglebottom and Wonder Kitty characters. With the help of Reverend Anna Volinski, Howard has co-created 17 children’s books, which have been translated into Chinese, Korean, and French, and have sold over two and a half million print copies.
In today’s conversation, we focus on the two pillars of listening that he learned from author Stephen Covey. One, seek first to understand before being understood, and two, be present. He walks us through his journey of chasing money, to chasing meaning, a midlife crisis that led him into the woods of Michigan for a two year isolated retreat, and eventually to the work that he does today, visiting schools, reading his books to four to seven year olds, and introducing them to the concepts of listening that he believes will help them grow into receptive, caring, and balanced adults. Howard speaks from his own experience of awakening as a 60 year old man, recognizing that his entire life he equated listening with obedience and doing, as he was told, in order to escape punishment, whether at home, school, or at work. Now, as an apprentice to the art of listening, he says the practice has improved his relationships, finances, free time, and the amount of fulfillment he feels in his life. Without further ado, please enjoy listening to this conversation with my friend Howard Binkow. You’ve described your story kind of as a riches to rags, to Rich’s story, having wanted to be a millionaire in your teenage years, and then achieve that in your forties, and coming to that point recognizing what’s next. You know, I climbed that big mountain that I was striving for, but now what’s after that? And so when you look back on that pivotal moment in your life, I’m curious if you could just walk us back through that.
Howard Binkow (03:32):
There’s a documentary out called Seven and Up. It was recorded in 1964. It was about seven families in Britain. All of them had started off with children that were seven years old. And what stuck me the most outta what I watched is they asked all seven children what they wanted to be when they grew up. And somehow six out of the seven predicted what they were going to be at seven. So whenever I run into a seven year old, I always ask them, what do you wanna be when you grow up? And so by seven, I had no idea what I wanted to be, what I grew up. So I made a very wise decision. I made a series of wise decision. One, I started life making a wise choice of parents. They gave me every opportunity to succeed. They loved me, they nurtured me.
My mother was a much better manager than I was. And so I relied on her to set the tone for me and basically do what my mother said, <laugh>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And the message that I got, maybe not at seven, but I was observing this all the time as I was growing up, get a good college education, marry a nice Jewish girl, be the best son I could be husband and father, and either be a doctor, lawyer, or successful businessman. I interpreted successful businessman to being a millionaire. So I married my best friend who happens to be Jewish. When I was 21, we had four beautiful children early, and I currently have 15 grandchildren.
Andy Vantrease (05:09):
Howard Binkow (05:10):
Mind my career, I became a partner in one of the largest home builders in the country. We home builders, land developers. We had a great life. We lived very well. We had enough money to do whatever we wanted. We had a big house in, belong to a country club, and we had reached quite a beautiful place. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I guess you could say that was my first life. And at age 40, I started to take a look, you know, typical male, middle-aged crises. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I accomplished all these goals in the business world. I’ve been best I could a father, son, and husband. What was the next step? Where was I going? It would’ve made sense to think about merging or going public or go for multimillionaire status, but that didn’t resonate with me at all. I knew there was something else I was here for.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. And so I did a very selfish thing that upset a lot of people. I got a divorce. I gave my wife half of whatever we earned, made sure my kids private schools and college were paid for. And three of my kids were in college and one was in high school. And I took off and made my needs, the first needs. So what I started to explore, a friend of mine introduced me to meditation. Now, I wasn’t much, I called that stuff at that time. Hoo stuff. Yeah. <laugh>. I didn’t have any beliefs. I was like, from Missouri, you know, kinda show me kind of guy. So I said, why should I do meditation? So my teacher made a very profound statement. He said, look, you have a very busy mind. Your mind is working all the time, 24/7. Why don’t you give it a rest for one minute?
See if you could rest it for one minute. And then he said, once you get a minute, keep building up to five minutes. And then they get up to 20 minutes and do it a couple times a day. So I said, okay, I like that challenge. I’m gonna try that. And it felt really good to do that. Then I decided to take a look at yoga, and I fell in love with Lilias Folan the mother of yoga. I called her. Okay. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I watched her on TV and I absolutely said, oh, this woman is beyond a guy can do yoga. Okay. And so I saw where she had a seminar at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. I said, okay, I’m gone. Cause she was married at the time. I think that I had a terrible crush on her. Anyway, <laugh>. So
Andy Vantrease (07:41):
I don’t think you were the only one.
Howard Binkow (07:43):
<laugh>. So India and I immediately hit it off. You know, certain people in my life are universally connected with me. And she was one of ’em. And so the last day, they, uh, group was coming in for the following week, and they were too psychic archeologists, which is pretty far out from where I was in life. Okay. Far, far from my belief system. And the first guy was a doctor from Canada. I can’t remember his name, but all I remember was he and his daughter getting up on stage and they had a yellow glow around them. I said, well, something’s going on here that I don’t know. And the third person to speak was a, a man by named of Ray Warring. Ray Warring was a really good friend of India’s. He lived in Montana and he was a psychic archeologist. He would go to sites and say, dig here, or the police would call him, or the FBI would call him to find information. So I said, well, this sounds really interesting. And he got up and he said, would any of you like to experience a different energy field? Hmm. Did
Andy Vantrease (08:52):
You even know what that meant at the time?
Howard Binkow (08:54):
No. I didn’t know what, know what it meant. I’m looking for answers. I’m looking for where I’m going with my life. I was experimenting. And so I go and we’re, we’re walking into the woods next to the, someplace next to the ranch. And he says, look, you’re, I’m gonna take you into a different field. He says, some of you’re gonna hear bell, some of you’re gonna see visions. Some of you are gonna to feel all different kinds of emotions. And I’m thinking to myself, oh my God, I’m gonna be embarrassed. I’m gonna be the only one in the group that feels nothing. You understand? Absolutely zero is gonna happen to me. So people start going in and he said, well, he’s, look at that, look at the field. You’ll see that little path around the field. He said, that’s where the animals go. Cause they don’t wanna mess with this feel this energy feel, okay, I’m buying all this in, but I’m, but I’m not, you know what I’m saying?
I’m mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’m already planning on disaster for myself personally. So it’s finally my turn and I go walk in there and I don’t hear bills. I don’t see visions, I don’t think about animals. You know, I’m just kind of walking around and I see there’s like a stump. He’s sticking out of the ground. And I don’t know, I’m just decided. I sit down on a stump. Okay. I’m sitting there for a couple seconds and it feels like I’m being levitated into the air. I felt like my body was jumping off now jumping, pulling off the stump into the air. All of a sudden, Ray Warring comes over and he says, you certainly like to get to the center of things, don’t you? <laugh>? What do you mean you’re right in the middle. I guess it was a life changing experience for me. Because of what it did.
It changed my whole perception of everything. He had taken somebody who was very narrow in view of the whole overall picture of energy. And all of a sudden my world opened up and I said to myself, you know, anything is possible. It opened me up as a student. So I owe India and the ranch a lot for that, for changing my perception. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So then I decided, okay, I’m gonna take more action with this. I wanna see what’s going on that I’ve been missing. So I read Shirley McClain’s book out on a limb in the book. She lists all the various gurus that she had wanted to see all over the world. And I followed, I took the names out. I got on airplanes. I flew all over the place, California to hear Keith Ryerson. And all sorts of experience happened to me. And then I decided to do a thorough, I moved into a, a-frame in northern Michigan for two years by myself. I was 20 minutes from a town of 6,000 by car. I had a electric typewriter, a phone and a truck with a plow and a shotgun. That was my <laugh>.
Andy Vantrease (11:35):
And how old were you at this point, Howard?
Howard Binkow (11:38):
I was in my, uh, early fifties, late forties.
Andy Vantrease (11:41):
And how was your family and friends and kind of prior life support system or network? Were you in contact with people or,
Howard Binkow (11:52):
I just took, took off, cut off. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I wanted to find out if I was an okay guy. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I wanted to find out more about life and death and religion and God. And I was by myself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, my only entertainment was on Saturday night. I’d drive into town and shoot pool at the local pool hall, in the bar, local bar. So I wanted to just be alone. I worked my entire life, busy. So I wanted to see, get a good glimpse of who I was. I was always under the influence of a woman. I love women. And it was always under their influence. I either had a wife or a girlfriend, or a mother. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, and I had just me now. So it was like a, a test for me. I really got into it. I really enjoyed it. And, uh, beforehand I went to Outward Bound.
Andy Vantrease (12:39):
Howard Binkow (12:40):
Pain. I did a five week when it was 25 below zero. I said, well, if I could deal with 25 below zero, zero is gonna sound like warm.
Andy Vantrease (12:49):
Yeah. That’s a good way to prep.
Howard Binkow (12:51):
So while I was in this state, whatever it was, I wrote a DJ syndicated show with a musical format. I played songs based upon telling a story. Every hour, A love story from beginning boy meets Girl to love, to marriage, to Trouble, and on the road again. Cause I called it the Breakup Club. And I thought it was fabulous. Okay. But I sent it out. Nobody was interested in buying it. So I was a persistent kind of guy, <laugh>. And so I got a license and I built and programed a 50,000 wat FM station in northern Michigan. And we had a ball. I, the people that worked there are still in touch with me. And they said it was the best experience they ever had. And we programmed the station based upon this theory that I had about telling a love story every hour. And we, it lasted about five years. There. There are two kinds of radio stations. One that make you a lot of money and one that take all your money. <laugh>,
Andy Vantrease (13:53):
Which one was that?
Howard Binkow (13:54):
<laugh>. It was a ladder. Okay.
Andy Vantrease (13:56):
So the radio, the radio station was something that came out of your two years. Yeah. In the cabin.
Howard Binkow (14:03):
That’s what came out of that was the material thing that came out of, was another four years of staying up there. Instead of living in isolation, I did the radio station. I was mm-hmm. <affirmative> the owner and the DJ, and played this musical format, which the audiences loved and advertisers didn’t understand. People would come into the studio and say, my cow is milking so much better. And, and my dog stays next to me only when your station is on. Unfortunately, dogs and cows have limited spending power. So, <laugh>,
Andy Vantrease (14:33):
What else do you remember about those two years in isolation? Like what realizations did you come to?
Howard Binkow (14:40):
One that I’m an okay guy. That I’m satisfied with who I am. Two, that I can make my own decisions about what I want to do. And it opened me up to what was really, it was really, if you wanna call that, that was perhaps my second life. My third life is find a way to give more meaning to my life. And that’s really what my life is all about right now is about being of service. And that was like the springboard for me about how I get there. So when I was done with this whole adventure I had, I said to myself, you know, I have two options. Okay. One, I, I considered going to Tibetan shoveling, done for seven years, you know, in a monastery. And the other was to be of this world. I had learned so much, you know, taken in so much information in the last few years. The guidance that I got was my mission should be to take what I’ve learned about spirituality and convert it in simple language. Many, many more people are curious about spirituality and are frightened by it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I go there. Words like holistic, supernatural, scare people away. And I don’t think the people in community, the new age community, really recognize that. How some of the words that they take as normal stuff, a lot of people are scared of.
Andy Vantrease (16:16):
What an interesting challenge to be guided to, or the universe to guide you to is like, okay, take what you’ve learned and figure out a way to communicate it.
Howard Binkow (16:24):
That was the challenge that I presented to myself. I didn’t know where it was going. So at age 60, I put all of my belongings in the back of my Isuzu Trooper and had room. And I headed for Florida. I was out of work and just about outta money. Being poor is hard enough. Being old and poor is not a, not a good combination. Okay? So I took a job in sales, always been an entrepreneur. And I’d never been in direct sales. My ego was way too fragile to deal with no. And the universe delivered to me through a friend, a tape by Stephen Covey about listening. It was earth shaking to my listening skills as Ray Warring was to me about my spiritual path. See, what I heard Stephen Covey say in this tape was to seek Chris to understand before being understood. Now, I hadn’t really considered that premise before because listening had a really negative connotation to me. Because in my inside I connected listening with obedience. All I remember from the time I was two was, you’re not listening Howard, you’re not listening. Howard, you’re not paying attention. Howard.
Andy Vantrease (17:34):
Was it also connected to the ways that you felt like you were always under the influence of a woman? Like the obedience of what that felt like your whole life?
Howard Binkow (17:44):
Absolutely. I used to, both of my ex-wives would say to me, Howard, you need to learn how to listen. And I thought they were the, I said, you’re the ones that need to learn how to listen. They were correct. Don’t tell ’em they were correct. Because I didn’t have good listening skills. I didn’t develop good. I thought listening was about getting the gist of a conversation and providing the solution. One of the many things I learned later when I started to became a student of listening, listener and training was that you and I are having a conversation now. What percentage would you guess are words of this communication?
Andy Vantrease (18:24):
Maybe like 20 or 30
Howard Binkow (18:28):
Ten. Seven to ten. 38% is vocal cues and vocal tones and 55% of the body language.
Andy Vantrease (18:35):
So just say that again. So seven to 10% is actual words that people are saying.
Howard Binkow (18:42):
When I’m texting you on seven to 10%, being on the phone increases it. If we were on Zoom and I could see you, okay. It would increase dramatically if we weren’t in the middle of a communication revolution. Certainly Covid proved it. I do a lot of asking questions, people about how are they doing with this? How are they doing? This whole notion of communicating instead of in person. And I think we’re just at the start of that revolution. Okay. It’d be interesting to see how it plays out.
Andy Vantrease (19:14):
There has been a huge shift this past year or year and a half with Covid and the ways that we have to just use Zoom and audio and all of that. And I’m really curious as well of how that’s changing people. I mean, how it’s really changing the way that we show up, the way that we communicate. I think there’s so much passive listening these days. Like I’ll even throw on a podcast, I hate to say it cuz I hope people listen to my podcast, <laugh>, but I’ll like throw on a podcast and I’ll be cooking. You know, it’s kind of like listening with one ear to that. And in other parts of my brain, I’m cutting onions and, and sauteing things and making sure I’m not burning the house down. And then with Zoom, it almost felt like it was using a totally different part of our brains to be on a screen and be communicating through audio, but not in person. So you can’t really feel the different cues and the feedback that you get.
Howard Binkow (20:24):
Your generation didn’t quite get as deep into it doing it the way this generation is doing it. This younger generation. I view what you just said as a huge opportunity. Let me tell you how I see it. And I, I guess it’s the way I lead my life. Everything. I look at everything as an opportunity. I viewed Covid as an opportunity for me. What was the opportunity? I’m at my best one on one. If you wanna get the best of me, it’s to be in my presence or me to be in your presence on the phone. As we’re doing right now, I’m at about a little less than 50%. When I’m emailing you, I’m at ten. So I visit with schools cause I love to do that. Imagine the joy. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> 88 years old, communicating with five year olds. I mean, it’s like, it’s an incredible process.
So then I had to adapt to Skype. And Skype meant I wasn’t there. And it required me to use even more of my communication skills to cause my job when I visit at an author visit is to, I gotta engage the children to a five year old. An author is like a rock star. They don’t have rock stars yet. So I start off with a good introduction, but I gotta keep their attention. If I can keep their attention for a half hour, I give myself a bat on the back. You know, Skype became an opportunity for me to keep getting better. Then came zoom, then came zoom with masks. So I can’t see their face. The engagement is so challenging. How is this being received? Cause if I’m watching somebody on a Zoom screen, I got 20 kids on a screen, I can get a sense of what’s going on If I’m bombing.
You understand, I know how I can make a change <laugh>. And now I’ve got ’em with their masks first. I would, I try fingers, I try touch your just to keep, engage them, touch your ear. And then a teacher says, don’t do that. Some of ’em wash their hands. Oh gosh. Experimenting with different ways to get them engaged when the, the dog is barking or their sister is crying. You understand <laugh>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So they’re all opportunities. The opportunities are huge and, and I, I don’t think we’ve seen the, we scratch the surface of the communication revolution that’s going on right now.
Andy Vantrease (22:45):
So I wanna go back and talk about the audio that you listened to with Stephen Covey. Can you share the two pillars of listening that he introduced you to, and then subsequently how it has impacted your life first, starting with that sales job that you had mentioned a couple minutes ago, because I know that you implementing those skills or those tools of listening really changed the way that you interacted with people.
Howard Binkow (23:16):
Covey introduced me to two concepts, which I hadn’t included in my listening skills, which was try first to understand somebody before saying the genius things I have to say. And give less advice and be more present. And knowing what’s happening around me instead of going and selling. I used listening as my approach and then sold, which is quite different than the other salesmen who were in my field. Yeah. And um, within two years, I made more money than I ever made in my life. I had more free time to write a book. I got along better with others and I learned more. I said, wow, this is so cool. I gotta share this with other people. <laugh>, other guys in particular. So I wrote a book called Guys Are We Really Listening? and then I subsequently had written another book for guys and I created a 18 minute animated video and they bombed <laugh>. I had a very difficult time discussing listening with most of the men that I met. Once I had the fortunate experience of having a half hour alone with Deepak Chopra. And he loved the discussion, but other than that, men kind of avoided the subject with me. So I’m kind of a persistent guy and I said, well, okay. My listening habits were really hard to change. The only reason I changed them was because I was desperate.
Andy Vantrease (24:44):
If you can comment, uh, just briefly on what your sales strategy looked like when it was the listen first approach versus the selling approach. I’d be really interested to hear that.
Howard Binkow (24:59):
Most salesmen, salespeople don’t get the appointment, so they never get a chance to meet. My approach based upon the little information that Stephen Covey had given me was, hello, my name is Howard Binkow, I’m with Intercontinental Warranty Services. I would like to make an appointment to learn a little bit more about your credit union to see if perhaps what we have to offer might work for your members. That always got me an appointment with the decision maker. I checked every page on their website. I called the credit union to get information. I looked for every queue as to what I thought their needs might be. When I sat down with a decision maker, I had a series of questions, open ended questions to engage the decision maker in a discussion about their favorite subject, their business. And while I was listening, I looked for opportunities.
And when they were done talking, I found the places where what I had heard fit what we were doing. And they loved the decision makers loved it because it was a completely different approach. Most of sales, hey listen, I got the greatest thing. You know, your members are gonna love this. We’re gonna save you money, whatever they can do. Later on, I did sales training for the company and I would get these sales people of all ages together. I’d say, well, sales is a process. What would you say is the most important element of a sale? What would you say? It’s,
Andy Vantrease (26:30):
I would say like the prep process of understanding whether your product or your solution is even going to fit. So that part of the process where you’re learning.
Howard Binkow (26:41):
So you, you would know that not if one of the men would ever say meeting someone’s needs. They said, know your product, present yourself well develop a relationship, but not one ever said, meet someone’s needs. Now, in order to meet someone’s needs, you have to listen <laugh> and find out what they were.
Andy Vantrease (27:05):
I would think that from a business perspective, you could definitely get men to be interested in the listening portion of it. Um, if it’s going to result in better outcomes. Not
Howard Binkow (27:19):
One of the men ever came up to me and said, you know, I really like that approach. So I dunno what I could say.
Andy Vantrease (27:26):
<laugh> <laugh>. So you have no idea they’re out floating. I might have been floating in the ethers now talking…
Howard Binkow (27:33):
To the wind. I have no idea.
Andy Vantrease (27:35):
Yeah. And I guess from that, you decided to shift your focus right into working with children. Um, so tell me a little bit about this first book that you wrote. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen and the, the Shift in Focus in working with four to seven year olds and meeting Anna Volinski through India. Um, and what happened next with the We Do Listen foundation.
Howard Binkow (28:02):
If listening is misunderstood by a lot of people, especially men, what I should do is go to a five year old before listening. Habits are set. This is what I’m gonna do. This is what I’m gonna, I’m gonna find a way to relate to younger boys and girls. So it’s make sure that when they go forward in life, that they have a sound basis of listening skills. That any of ’em don’t walk away with the same perception inside that I did. That it’s all about be quiet and do as you’re told. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that was my first book, A picture book In the book, in the first several pages, we have some fun and explain to kids the consequences of not listening to help stay safe. And the back of the book, I list six different ways for them to listen. One of them being try your best to understand the other being, know more about what’s happening around you.
And the book took off. It started in 2005 and it’s still selling well and, and translated to several languages. And, and so as I had done with many other things, I thought I was done. Okay. I did my <laugh>, I was ready to go onto the next job, enter India again. And she introduces me to a sister angel by the name of Reverend Anna Volinski who lived close by to me in Boca Raton, Florida, who had a lot more wisdom to pass on to children. So we teamed up and we said, okay, our goal, we’re gonna set up a nonprofit. We set up up the We Do Listen Foundation. We said, our goal is not gonna be to make money. Our goal is to be of service. And it was really the beginning of me understanding how to make more meaning outta my life to be in service. I’ve been in service ever since that moment. Okay. What we’re doing now is we donate hardcover copies of our first book to kindergartners in low in lower income areas. If anybody’s interested in checking out an animated version of our book and poster, it’s on our, our website wedolisten.org.
Andy Vantrease (30:16):
Yeah. I was able to check out some of those videos and animations. And that has to just be so fun for kids and parents and teachers to tune in using these different mediums. I mean, the books are fantastic. Then you have the little video and then you even have workbooks for teachers to work with and parents to work with. What was the goal for using a couple different ways to learn the material and how has that been received?
Howard Binkow (30:43):
We started off with printed books and around, I think it was 2008, there was trouble times going on. I said to myself, or we said, we said let’s make an animated version of the book and put it up on our website. Then we said, well, let’s create a song to go with the book so we could give the lesson in a different form. And then we created a poster in discussion questions. The idea was that we picked 15 subjects that we thought were important, uh, social emotional life lessons for young kids. We gave either parents or teachers like a built in lesson in less than a half hour. They could go through the whole thing and teachers can engage children in discussion about important subjects.
Andy Vantrease (31:26):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, where did you come up with those 15 different points? Are these things from your experience parenting and Anna’s experience parenting or your experience, you know, with kids in schools as you were going in and speaking with kids and finding out what they were going through and working with?
Howard Binkow (31:47):
We had a huge team of teachers and therapists and, and parents. And we looked at different subjects in the marketplace that we thought either weren’t very covered very well, or that we had something to add. The subjects were varied and as we were going along, we got requests. Our second book was about feeling good about yourself. And then teachers said to us that we’re reading the books, they said, you know, help us out. Bullying is, the incidents of bullying are getting worse and worse and worse. And kids are totally confused about the right thing to do. We wrote the bullying book and then we kept going with all those subjects and then we said what we had to say. So we stopped <laugh>.
Andy Vantrease (32:32):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, how did you come up with the character of Howard B. Wigglebottom? I mean, I’m guessing that is based off of you
Howard Binkow (32:40):
<laugh>. Well, I don’t know that it is or it isn’t. But first illustrator, Susan Cornelison, she presented it to me and said, here’s this bunny. And the Bunny’s name was Harold b wiggle bottom. And of course everybody loved, and my family and myself loved the name Wiggle Bottom. And I went home and I said to my, my family, wow, we’re gonna have this book and it’s gonna be Harold be wiggle bottom. And my family looked around and said to me, you’re not getting away with that <laugh>. So the name was changed to Howard B. Wigglebottom. You know, although it represents some of the, my adventures, it was a collective effort. The first story between myself and Reverend Anna Volinski and Susan Cornelison. What we do in the book is we present listening and the consequences of not listening and being present. And then the last page of the book, we list six items and said, this is what listening is, in addition to obedience, to being told what you’re due to help stay safe. And then at the end of the book, we came up with discussion questions so that the teacher or the parent could go back in the book and discuss the book with children.
Andy Vantrease (33:50):
Okay. Okay. I’d like to dive in a little bit about what you have learned and what you’ve heard from people about what they think listening is. Because the whole reason you’re doing this is that you’re finding out that, um, people have a really confused idea of what it actually means to listen. You went and looked it up in the dictionary and found all of these different definitions, a lot of them along the lines of obedience and doing as you’re told. So I’m curious of what you are hearing from children when you go into the classroom, what they think listening is all about.
Howard Binkow (34:30):
I, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit with K2 students for the last 15 years because of my own experience with listening. I often will ask the children, what does listening and paying attention mean? And I’ve never gotten one coherent answer other than do as you’re told now. That’s really the impression that I got as I was growing up and didn’t really look and understand other listening skills. And it was a pretty negative charge inside of me to have obedience there. So I kind of avoided listening, whatever I could. And so I said, well, nothing really has changed their three generations. Kids are still viewing it as do as you’re told. Some kids grow out of that and learn more about listening, and some do not. That’s our challenge, is to present basic listening skills other than obedience to kids so that they have a choice to decide whether they’re gonna do that or not.
Andy Vantrease (35:27):
How do you start to open that conversation with them and present them with these other pillars of understanding that you learn from Stephen Covey, which is the seek first to understand and be present. Like how are you presenting that to these young kids?
Howard Binkow (35:44):
It’s in six simple statements on a poster in the back of the book, reading from the poster, How to be a Better Listener. Sit quietly. Use both your eyes and your ears to help you listen. Please don’t interrupt. Wait your turn to talk. Try your very best to understand the person speaking. Ask questions. If you don’t understand, pay attention. That means to be alert and really know what’s happening around you. And those are the basic fundamentals as we see it, of listening with that basis. Now listening is one of the most complex subjects I’ve ever learned anything about because the more I learn about listening, the more there is to learn. There’s so many different facets. Listening to others, listening to their heart, to their body, to their, uh, intuition. We talk about that in our stories.
Andy Vantrease (36:44):
And you’re using this language with these kids. Listen to your heart. Listen to your intuition. Listen to your body,
Howard Binkow (36:50):
Yes. Language you use. Listen to your heart. Listen to your body. Listen to the little voice in your head.
Andy Vantrease (36:56):
What do you see in these kids as you’re working with them and reading to them and teaching them?
Howard Binkow (37:02):
The idea is for us with a five year old, is to engage them in a conversation. And we engage them in the conversation by sometimes the character does outrageous things, you know, and really gets into trouble. And the name engages a lot of children. So once they get engaged, we present the lessons to ’em in so many different ways. At a radio station, if they said, if you could get a listener to hear something three times, you got ’em. And so they hear the listening message in our printed book, in our animated book, in our song, in the questions, in the hopes that they’ll absorb it. Listening is is an internal process. It’s not our job to know whether they accept the information. The idea is to give them options. All our books are about options. Here are options for you. Did you think of this doing this instead of this?
And so we use listening as the tool and we cover subjects up. Uh, being the best you can. Courage, it’s okay to be afraid. How to manage anger. How what about telling the truth? The Power of Giving. Sportsmanship is a big book because of emphasis today is so much on winning. Our title is Howard B. Wigglebottoms Learns About Sportsmanship. Winning isn’t everything. Um, how to deal with bullying. What’s the right thing to do? Kids in my day, I don’t know what kind of advice you got for bullying when you were a kid, but I heard different things from different about one. One said push ’em back. One says, ignore, the teacher says, tell the teacher, kids are confused so they don’t know what’s the right thing. So what they do is listen to their friends and do nothing. And they empower the bullies by doing so. Teachers ask us to write this book, First Thing To Do, Be Brave, Be bold. The Teacher Must Be Told. We talk about getting along with others about trust, about, let me give you a simple, simple things that come up in parenting that, um, let’s say, let’s say you had a five year old and your five year old came home and said, mom, my friend dogs died and she’s crying. What can I do to make her feel better? What would you say?
Andy Vantrease (39:27):
I would just say like, be there with her. You know, listen to her stories and give her a hug. <laugh>, maybe
Howard Binkow (39:35):
<laugh> that that is exactly what the book says. The book says, friends listen. But it also gives alternatives. Have a show and tell. Go out and play soccer together. You know, some other options that they can do in addition to big one, being friends, listen to friends. And then we have overeating and over overdoing. We talk about belonging and manners. And then I, I developed a second series called the Wonder Kid Series that deals with two subjects paying attention, Wonder Kid Says Is Best To Pay Attention. And the other was a interesting one that I learned in my kabbala training. Is Wonder Kitty says, We Can All See God, which basically is a story about Wonder Kitty and two friends going out to see God and they come back and find God in a mirror. And the Judeo-Christian books, although not necessarily practice, say that we all are created in the image and likeness of God to let kid know, the kids know to find the goodness and the God in them.
Andy Vantrease (40:40):
Why do you think that listening is such a uncommon skill?
Howard Binkow (40:46):
Because every year it gets faster. Everything is fast. We gotta do it fast. Well, effective listening is just the opposite. The effective requires a lot of patience for me, when I list it, I’m, and every, almost every guy I’ve ever asked about this or witnessed, I’m hardwired for fixes. So if you were gonna, if you and I were having a, a talk and you were trying to explain, you know, you, you know, you are at work, you had this person working for you and she’s really not doing her job, but you’ve really tried with her. And in my mind it’s going well, why don’t you just fire her? You understand why don’t just get another person. And when in effect all you really wanted to do do was to be acknowledged in her. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And all I wanna do is be appreciated. Okay. And so I have to train myself when you’re telling me that story not to speak and only give advice when asked. And usually when I’m asked advice, I say, have you considered this option? And throw it right back. I don’t see that as a skill being developed in the younger generations for most, for the most
Andy Vantrease (42:03):
Part. I mean, a lot of this to me mirrors my experience in therapy circles or like women circles. Um, it’s so interesting to me that you see that you have found and experience a difference between the ways that women listen and the ways that men listen. And even, you know, I’m hearing you say that there’s seems to be an innate quality of active listening in girls and in women, which is something I’m really interested in because being with other women in these settings, those aspects of seeking to understand and being present just for the simple goal of listening, not for fixing, not for attaching your own story to whatever the person is saying. Um, not even for consoling. It’s just to literally listen and be a witness to somebody else’s experience.
Howard Binkow (43:06):
You got it. I think you, you’ve nailed it right on the head. So the question is, if you wanna have some fun okay with it, I think I suggested this to you earlier. In Nick’s company, ask a grown man how he would explain the word listening and paying attention to a five year old. And I think you’ll be a surprise in most cases, that men are not able to explain the full meaning of those two words. And they are different. Okay. Because they haven’t learned it. <laugh> You wouldn’t do that with me cause I learned it. Okay.
Andy Vantrease (43:47):
So after your 28 years of being a student of listening, what is the difference to you between listening and paying attention?
Howard Binkow (43:57):
Before I answer your question, I have to explain to you that Anna Volinski, Reverend Anna Volinski was the best listener I’ve ever met. I asked her a couple years ago, I said, you know, I’ve been listening and training for 28 years and, um, how am I doing? She gave me the supreme compliment. You’re a pretty good listener for a guy <laugh>. So I accept that after 28 years. So the subtle difference that between listening, listening is in part obedience because to a child, a child needs to learn to do what the adults are telling ’em for safety purposes. So it’s an important message to give children, but it’s also in addition to that, it’s trying one’s best to understand what the other person is saying before you have to say what you have to say. Paying attention is part and connected with listening, but not the same. Paying attention is being present, which is currently my biggest lesson. Okay? It was listening and now it’s being more present. Being present means that I know what’s happening around me in addition to understanding what somebody is communicating. So that very subtle difference, and those two ingredients make for better listening. That’s the two ingredients that this boy here didn’t learn until I was 60. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. That’s why it was such a startling thing to listen to the Stephen Covey tape.
Andy Vantrease (45:36):
How has your life changed since you have become a student of listening and, and been practicing these skills?
Howard Binkow (45:44):
I get along better with others. I get in less trouble. I learn more. And, um, it’s become my vocation, my advocation, my goal. I don’t know if anybody can listen all the time while and they’re waking up. Cause you can’t do it. It’s way too much work. I’ve been with a lot of gurus and higher beings and nobody listens all the time. You can’t do it. My daughter asked me a trick question once, you know, kids are really famous for trick questions. If you give ’em the wrong answer, they, they’re, they’re affect the rest of their life, you know? And she says, dad, are you, after I’ve been a listener training for 20 years, written several books and she says, dad, are you a good listener? Now that’s a, that’s a pretty loaded question. Okay. First of all, the person to answer that question is the person that are talking to me, not me.
Okay. What their perception is. I said, you know, I said, I’m not a good listener. I had, you have only a parent has only about five or 10 seconds to respond to a question like that <laugh>. And I said, you know, I said, uh, I’m not a good listener. Uh, I’m a better listener, and you can be a better judge of what kind of listener I am. So it’s a continuing process. So I’m very satisfied with where I am as a listener, but I need to get better. And, and the better I get, the more good things happen to me. That’s what I’m trying to sell to kids. That same concept. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Andy Vantrease (47:07):
What are the ways that you are practicing this on a moment to moment basis or a daily basis?
Howard Binkow (47:14):
I, I do meditate. I meditate 20, 20 minutes a day, twice a day. It’s a part of my routine. So I don’t even think about it. It just done. And I’m into energy. One of the things that started me on this venture with, with India and Ray Warring, I’m into the, to the notion of understanding more about how we are all connected. I was hoping that the only positive thing that could have come out of the virus was that people, more people would realize how we’re all connected. How a disease affected the whole world in a matter of a few weeks. And so I’m doing listening to energy work, I’m able to listen to energy now, and it’s very satisfying. I can listen to flowers, I can listen to inanimate things. I I’ve been listening to my own energy that’s going on inside of me.
So it’s a whole learning process. It’s fascinating. As I get older, you know, you get more of the parts need attention, and so you can’t call the doctor every day, you know? So if I can, I’m managing to learn how to balance my own energy. I have a teacher in Sarasota who’s a world known teacher in energy balancing, and I’m learning how to balance energy. Maybe I may go into that as a field if I get better at it, you know, so that’s another form of listening. So there’s always something to, to learn. For me in the, in the area of listening, my intention is to keep delivering the message. There’s more to listening than obedience. And the more time that they spend on the understanding part of it. And that’s why I’m so engaged. I I’m so convinced that we could make a major shift if more little boys would learn better listening skills, that our world will be in a much better shape than it is right now. Uh, when you think about it for a moment, think for a moment. If I asked you, who are your national listening role models? If you were saying to your nephew, you should play basketball like Lebron James, you should listen. Like, who?
Andy Vantrease (49:26):
Wow. I don’t, I’ve never really thought about that. Even though I would consider myself to listen as a living <laugh>, everything I do is based around listening and asking questions and listening more. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t really know.
Howard Binkow (49:42):
That’s, that’s a criminal part of this. Okay? There’s two people that I can think of that to me are national listening role models. One is President Obama, who even the Republicans had to agree that he was a good listener. They complained he was too slow, but that he was a good listener, okay. That he understood. And the other was Barbara Walters, if you ever read your book, she wrote a book about that years ago about her interviewing skills because of her, the way which she’s able to listen. So it’s a sad commentary on our times. Okay. Listening is such an important subject. And so my job is to keep going to reach as many little boys as I can and tell ’em, Hey, there’s something else here, something else for you to get you. You get this, this is gonna make your life easier. It’s gonna make it smoother. That’s my overall present that I hope to
Andy Vantrease (50:48):
Howard Binkow, a vibrant and curious learner who can’t help but be inspiring given the task he’s taken on at the age of 88. The thought of him working with four a seven year olds, reading to them, visiting schools, and dedicating his time to introducing the concepts of true listening really lights me up. And I think the world could use more intergenerational teaching setups like this, don’t you? It’s no surprise that we’re in the midst of a communication revolution. And I find that even just broaching the subject is helpful as we all take inventory of the ways that this last year and a half has changed the way we interact with each other, what’s working, what’s not. How do we pivot in all of these different communication avenues? I found it inspiring just to have this conversation today and notice the differences in Howard’s viewpoints versus my viewpoints versus, uh, younger generations viewpoints on just the ways that we interact and communicate. If you’re interested in getting involved with the We Do List Foundation, they are currently looking for donors who can help cover the cost of donating books to Title one low income schools around the country visit wedolisten.org for more information on donating, and that’s where you’ll also find the ability to download free versions of the book series, animations, worksheets, and more.
A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.
This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day.