When We Are Listened To, It Creates Us, Makes Us Unfold and Expand

Karl Menninger? Brenda Ueland? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement about the enormous importance of listening attentively during conversations instead of simply talking is attributed to the psychiatrist Karl Menninger and the writer Brenda Ueland.

When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.

Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: In 1941 Brenda Ueland published an article titled “Tell Me More” in “Ladies’ Home Journal” about the desirability of listening carefully to children and adults. She believed that most people were not sufficiently mindful of conversational partners. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Because listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. You can see that when you think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.

This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weazens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it.

Today, Brenda Ueland is best known for her self-help book “If You Want to Write” which has encouraged multiple generations of neophyte writers to express themselves. This work was first released in 1938, but its popularity grew through a series of reprint editions.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The 1941 essay by Ueland intrigued the prominent psychiatrist Karl Menninger, and he included an excerpt in his 1942 book “Love Against Hate”. The laudatory introductory words by Menninger mentioned Ueland and the magazine that published her article: 2

The principal element in the technique of psychoanalysis is listening—uncritical but attentive listening. A good many hundreds of pages have been written about this in the technical literature, but I do not recall anything else so eloquent and, at the same time, so sound as an article by Brenda Ueland, published not in the Psychoanalytic Review, not in the American Journal of Psychiatry, not in the Journal of the American Medical Association (where perhaps it should have been), but in The Ladies’ Home Journal!

When Menninger reprinted the words of Ueland he omitted several sentences and used the ellipsis as a connective:

When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. . . It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. . . When we listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.

In 1956 “The Teacher and the Child: Personal Interaction in the Classroom” by Clark E. Moustakas was published and it included a long three paragraph excerpt from Brenda Ueland’s article with an acknowledgement to her and “Ladies’ Home Journal” 3

In 1958 “The High School Journal” printed an article titled “What It Means to Grow Up” by Herman J. Peters that included the quotation by Ueland. However, the footnote accompanying the excerpt pointed to the 1956 book by Clark E. Moustakas and did not directly mention Ueland. 4

In 1993 a collection of writings by Brenda Ueland was published under the title “Strength to Your Sword Arm”, and the essay “Tell Me More” was included. Thus, the quotation was further disseminated with a clear ascription to Ueland. 5

In conclusion, this quotation should be ascribed to Brenda Ueland who published it in 1941. Karl Menninger also included the statement in his 1942 book “Love Against Hate”; however, he carefully credited Ueland.

Image Notes: Teléfono de cordel (1882) via Wikimedia Commons. Supplied by Biblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias del Trabajo Universidad de Sevilla. Image has been manipulated and cropped.

(Great thanks to Sarah Neal-Estes whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to my local librarians for facilitating access to the article in “Ladies’ Home Journal”.)


  1. 1941 November, Ladies’ Home Journal, Tell Me More by Brenda Ueland, Start Page 51, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Curtis Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to University of Miami)
  2. 1942, Love Against Hate by Karl Menninger, M.D. with the collaboration of Jeanetta Lyle Menninger, Quote Page 275 and 276, A Harvest Book: Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1956, The Teacher and the Child: Personal Interaction in the Classroom by Clark E. Moustakas (Clark Edward Moustakas), Quote Page 42, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  4. 1958 May, The High School Journal, Volume 41, Number 8, What It Means to Grow Up by Herman J. Peters, Start Page 340, Quote Page 343, Published by University of North Carolina Press (JSTOR) link
  5. 1993, Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings by Brenda Ueland, Essay: Tell Me More, Start Page 203, Quote Page 203, Published by Holy Cow! Press, Duluth, Minnesota, Distributed by The Talman Company, New York. (Verified with scans)