It seems as though we all go through life barely listening until someone says a key word that strikes a chord within us and wakes us up from autopilot. We then pay attention to the conversation, which takes a lot of energy if you are sleep deprived, and once it is no longer of interest to us we go right back to autopilot. That’s how you can find yourself driving to work on your day off and not have any idea how you got there. Or how you can say uh-huh to everything your spouse is saying and then not remember the conversation five minutes later. If key words are not continuously spoken in a conversation to keep the person interested, you tend to check out again, which can cause a lot of miscommunication with those involved in the conversation (because you were on autopilot during the entire thing). This must be how wars between countries and fights between husbands and wives start out.
I suppose if we were to listen and pay attention to everything all the time it would prove to be really exhausting. We would be like the newborn baby that needs to sleep all afternoon after being over-stimulated from looking at a stop sign or a stuffed animal. It would just make me feel a lot better if I knew what everyone's key words were, so that when I was talking I knew that I was actually being listened to, instead of knowing all they were hearing was blah, blah, blah.
My husband proves my theory on a daily basis. He is not the only one that proves the theory, but is the subject that does so most consistently. My husband’s key words for checking out and not paying attention seem to be anything related to housework and organization. I swear I could be talking in French and he wouldn't know the difference. If I really need to get the message across I have to make him stop what he is doing and look at me (like a three year old) before I can tell him what I need him to do. Most of the time, I have him repeat it back to me to be sure that the message stuck. Even then, sometimes it just slips right out. If he is involved in doing something while I am trying to talk to him though, that is a different story. He might as well be on the other side of the universe.
Its almost like his brain is broken into compartments and when one compartment is open, and he is playing with the items in it, no other compartment can be open at the same time. Before he can talk about or do anything else, all the items have to be put back into the compartment and only then can the next compartment be opened. Unfortunately, this does not prove to be true outside of his brain. On the outside, he NEVER puts anything back where it goes. Socks are littered all over the house and the desk where he works is covered in so many piles of stuff that you can't even see the desk! Sometimes I honestly don't even know how he functions.
Men and women alike have their key words that make them check out and check back in to reality. It is just a question of finding out what they are. Whether this is a phenomenon to keep us from over stimulation or just a way to let us get through the day, we are all just barely listening until something captures our attention and wakes us up.