Junk or Treasure?

This is the second of a series of articles I am writing that feature the poetry of Shel Silverstein from his books Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. The first post featured his poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out” taken from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

This post features his poem “Hector the Collector” taken from the same book.  Silverstein’s sketch with the poem suggests Hector is a boy around age 8 or 9.

The poem begins with these lines.

Hector the Collector

Collected bits of string.

Collected dolls with broken heads

And rusty bells that would not ring.

Silverstein then goes on to catalog an extensive list of all the “useless” things Hector collects, some of which are quite ridiculous and amusing!  Then he closes the poem with these lines.

Hector the Collector

Loved these things with all his soul–

Loved them more than shining diamonds,

Loved them more than glistenin’ gold.

Hector called to all the people,

“Come and share my treasure trunk!”

                      And all the silly sightless people

                     Came and looked . . . and called it junk.

Has anyone tried to share with you something of value to them and you quickly dismissed it as “junk?”  That “something” is more likely to be a thought, a feeling, an idea, or a memory than a physical object.  Did you realize it was a call for attention or affirmation, and if so, did you stop what you were doing and really listen?  Or did you pretend to listen?  So often, adults are too hurried, harried, or busy to genuinely listen.  Parents do not listen to their children.  Husbands and wives do not listen to each other. The workplace is often totally bereft of genuine listening and full of pretend listening.  Pretend listening is when you try to look like you are listening, but your attention is definitely elsewhere. 

Neither children nor adults are fooled by “pretend” listening.  Especially children who experience an inner “knowing” when they are being ignored or rejected. They may say nothing and walk away, but nevertheless, they feel a bit more distant or isolated than before.  The more this happens, the feeling grows incrementally until they begin to resort to more dramatic, sometimes negative behavior to feel noticed and appreciated.    

Besides not really listening, people are quick to judge what they are seeing or hearing.  My mother was generally an attentive, supportive listener, but I clearly recall a time when I was about 6 or 7 years old and came home from school all excited to show her some cartoons I had drawn of Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and a couple of other characters.  I proudly showed them to her.  Her immediate response was, “Steve, don’t lie to me!  You traced them.”  I remember feeling crushed but also indignant, even telling her to call my teacher if she did not believe me.  Indifference and self-absorption erode communication, but judgment destroys it.  

Every day there are “Hectors” who share their “treasures” with you.  Young and old.  Are you listening?  Will you call it “junk?”

(See “Are You Listening?” to learn the basics of genuine listening.)



  1. Steve Johnson

    Yes, I observe this kind of pretend listening or just plain ignoring, a lot! It happens among what I call the “beautiful people” in organizations, or society in general. “Beautiful people” are the ones with the highest degree, the higher positions in an organization, the longest experience, etc. Not the janitors, dishwashers, cashiers, or the like. It’s unfortunate. There is tremendous insight among the “unseen” or “little people.” Great article!

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