“The Art of Seeing” by Michael Milton
I have been occasionally tuning into various debates and speeches through this turbulent election cycle, and something stands out to me more than the shrilly stated “facts” about gun control, abortion, gay rights or Muslim extremist activity: Everyone interrupts everyone else. No one really listens to the other.
The other night I caught Charlie Rose on Channel 13 interviewing Hillary Clinton. He seemed constitutionally unable to allow Mrs. Clinton to voice her point without his jumping in. “Were you raised in a barn??” I wanted to shout out to Mr. Rose, “Hush up and let your guest finish a sentence!” My annoyance at Rose’s rudeness would have been the same had his guest been Kate Hudson or even Pee Wee Herman. And it’s not just old Charlie who seems to have spent his formative years in that proverbial barn.
Interrupting has become a hallmark in every conversation. Behind the facial expressions we choose in order to approximate “I’m listening,” our mental wheels are churning anxiously towards our next clever riposte, usually thrown out into the conversational ring, while the Other is still speaking.
I direct this reprimand towards myself. I often think—wrongly–that I can digest what the Other is saying while I am carefully crafting my clever response. True listening is a learned art and requires every fiber of our mind, body and spirit– a lofty aspiration. But hey, what else do we have to do? Like patience, listening ends up being its own reward.
Listening requires accepting the possibility of not knowing what you will say next. It means you may have to hear some things that you don’t agree with. You risk the possibility that however you are habitually apt to judge another’s point of view, that something new and even good might be revealed if you work towards really listening.
So, please, hush up!
I would like to present you all with a dare; I challenge you to refrain from interrupting for one day. And if YOU are the one who is interrupted, to simply say, “I was speaking here, but if you need to say something, I will sit down and wait until you are finished.” And then sit down. Not with attitude. Just sit. Give the Other the time he/she clearly craves. And then… listen. Really listen. If the Other goes on to grandstand for the next hour, let them. Just keep breathing. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t text. Don’t wink. Frankly, I’m already inspired by whomever of you out there takes this challenge on!
To me, the ability to manage silence truly demonstrates a sterling character– in either a friend or a political candidate. And really, in an era when the disparity of belief in what defines America and what it means to be an American has grown so vast, is there anyone foolish enough to believe that more jabber is what is required on the path towards some much needed balance? So… hush, now.
“Can’t we all hear ourselves?” I often wonder. But of course, we can’t.
In searching for my deeper purpose on this planet, I wonder if it might be something as simple as becoming a better listener. I began consciously experimenting with a more expanded concept of listening a year or so ago. I am terrible at it, I admit. But I keep coming back to these simple precepts.
Listen… and then repeat.
When I am able to keep my conversational ego at bay, I am always amazed what happens when I devote even the smallest portion of my consciousness towards the Other—Republican or Democrat, man or woman, friend or foe—utilizing those three deceptively easy steps. A miracle happens! “I” slowly disappear–the “I” that is MY knowledge, MY education, MY beliefs, MY vanity, MY comparisons, MY judgements, MY opinions–and as “I” begins to dissolve the Other can begin to hear themselves.
As I become more conscious of simple inhalation and exhalation while listening, I can simultaneously breathe in the Others’ dislikes, concerns, vulnerability and fears and in exchange, breathe back out however much light, compassion, and love I am capable of summoning. I imagine I am revealing some small bit of God or Buddha or the Universe living within me, whichever Deity responding to a basic law of physics–“Nature abhors a vacuum”—thus allowing more of Their expression within me which provides healing for myself AND the Other.
I am beginning to believe that this sort of listening is the most important first thing I can do at this rocky juncture in our history.
So, again I repeat–hush up! You with the judgments, you with the hatred, you with the bigotry, you with the superior attitude, you who went to Yale and you who never finished high school, you who are the stock broker and you who makes crystal meth in your basement lab.
Hush, up. Breathe and listen.
“A good teacher is like a candle—it consumes itself to light the way for others.” Mustafa Ataturk
“There is no teacher but your own soul.” Swami Vivekananda
I am not much of a teacher, but I do see something in the Others’ eyes register as I (God?) allow their words to find even just a bit less resistance within me. The Other can actually hear themselves. And I sense when that happens, change begins. It becomes possible and not because of my admonitions or judgements, but because the Other recognizes in themselves some new and truer essence in their own words.
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink!” Ain’t it the truth! Anyone up for my challenge?
“…a prayer shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds—that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor…” Abdu’l-Baha
What have we got to lose?