Lessons From ‘Pulp Fiction’

There’s a cut scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction that still resonates for me even though it’s 24 years old. Good movies do that to you sometimes. A phrase or scene sits in your head and won’t leave no matter what else you stuff in your noggin.

In the scene, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) is going out for a burger and a milkshake with one of her husband’s employees, Vincent Vega (John Travolta). His first encounter with her is through the lens of a small hand-held video camera. Through her inquisitive lens, we learn more about the soft-spoken Vince, and it’s a surprisingly intimate conversation for two people who have never met.

As an audience member, you laugh along at some of the questions like “Are you and Elvis man or a Beatles man? You can like them both but you can only be one.” She finishes the Barbara Walters routine when she asks him, “Do you listen, or do you wait to speak?”  

Out of all the memorable moments in that movie – this one hit me the hardest. It’s something I think about when meeting new people or dealing with certain folks at work. Like Vincent, I admit that I try to listen but often find myself waiting to talk more often.

People will give you clues beyond the obvious interruption. If you’re intuitive, they’re not difficult to read. Look at how the person is standing – are they comfortable or seem fidgety? Where is the person looking – at you or around and over your shoulder? When they respond, does it have anything to do with what you just said or do they try to top your story in some way. And how are you handling your role in this interaction? Are you giving, sharing, or taking? It matters if you think about it.

I’ve heard it say that we detest in other people what we secretly dislike about ourselves, so this is something I’ve come to realize I may have a problem with. It drives me crazy when in a conversation it turns into an event where the other participant proceeds to suck the air out of the room. By that logic, I’m afraid of being on the windy end of things so I check myself when I do my personal inventory each morning. A little self-reflection and correction isn’t pain free – but definitely worth it.

Listening isn’t unpleasant – you learn a lot when you’re actively engaged in it. However, it’s not easy. There’s work in it that you don’t really think about. Think for a minute about what your personal listening habits are. Do you make eye contact? Do you look at your phone? Can you sit straight or stand still? Do you put aside judgments. Can you wait?

If you have Pulp Fiction on DVD or VHS, you may have the cut scene already. Otherwise, you can find it on Youtube. Like listening, it’s worth a revisit.

Karen Padden

Karen, Queen of the Paddens and first of her name. Teacher, Baker, Petter of Cats, Multiple Sneezer and Crocheter of Wubbies. Believes in kindness, always.

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