Monday, July 11, 2016

On the Nature of Silence

Sometimes people think I am quiet. Sometimes I am. But not really.

I am a listener, that's all. When it is my space to speak, I can go on forever and without pause. But I always am willing and desiring first to hear what everyone else is saying. I can't think of what I want to say sometimes because I am too busy listening. 

Just because I listen doesn't mean I don't speak, or that I don't want to speak. 

Take school, for instance. It was hard to talk in front of the class in middle school because I was still trying to get comfortable in my own skin--so telling me to stand in front of the class and deliver a speech well was, essentially, torture. But I was improving enough in high school that by sophomore year, I realized that presentations (a much better word than speeches) could be fun. 

I could adopt a new identity when gave a presentation.

My presentation partner and I dressed in costumes to deliver our project on Macbeth; I later used the same dress senior year when my group presented our retelling of Rapunzel. Dressing up in some way or form, even with just a subtle adjustment to a regular outfit, separated me from my hesitation and helped me to focus instead on the information I was delivering, on giving it atmosphere.

And do you know what happened? By the time I was in college, I was almost enjoying presentations. By presentations, I mean the big ones that you have to plan for a long time--not the quick moments when you go up with your group for five minutes. I was nervous when I found out that I would have to give two big presentations for my food class (one for the whole class time with a partner and then one by myself for half the class time)--but I put a lot of thought into my individual presentation and I rather liked sharing my topic with everyone.

That's the center of it all, isn't it? I like to say something when I speak--which certainly isn't to say that I don't like to talk nonsense, too, like everyone else. Nonsense being spending half hour discussing the best and worst lip colors and products, or naming off the worst car names, or whatever else. But that's filler talk, talk that you use when you're simply spending time with people you like, people you're comfortable with or see often. They won't call you quiet because they see you too often to think that.

The people who wouldn't know are the people I don't want to waste words on: I don't want to make them listen to endless blabbing without meaning or purpose. I don't want to speak just for the sake of speaking. I want to speak because we have something to talk about together, because a conversation has come up that I have something to say about. After all, it's possible that I talk less around you because I like to hear you talk.

Here we come back around to the listening.

Everyone, whether you naturally speak more or less, benefits from knowing how to listen. This we hear mentioned often, and it is true. There is much to learn from what other people say, whether or not you agree with it, and there is much to learn from knowing when to speak and when to listen. Listening is much like reading, just as speaking is in some ways like writing. I can write because I read, and likewise in order to speak I must first listen. 

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