Jul 6, 2011

10 Things I Learned from Being Silent

20 hours of no talking (plus 36 of no eating) can teach you alot, especially since there's lots of time to listen. I did it to participate in the Day of Global Solidarity - recognizing the billions of people who have no voice and/or who go hungry every day - and to raise money for VIDEA - Victoria International Development Education Association. But of course in the end the most powerful experience was what I learned about myself.

1. I talk alot. All interesting and brilliant and funny, of course, but alot. Sometimes a wee filter or a 2-second delay like they have on some live TV shows might be a good thing.

2. I process verbally. It's why my parents feared to go to parent-teacher interviews. It's partly why I talk alot. It's why I love teaching and facilitating. It's why I write. Taking something in, churning it around in my brain, then spitting it back out again helps me digest and integrate (hmm, spit-out to digest, not the best-formed analogy ever...)

3. I express my feelings verbally. At the end of the lovely visit/interview with my friend Elke, I wanted so much to tell her how much I enjoyed being with her, respect her, respect that she let me stay silent, appreciate all she gives to the world, etc etc, and all I could do was smile and hug and hope it all shone through my eyes. And who knows, maybe it did even more than the words would have.

4. My wife likes to hear me talk. 12 years of marriage and we still have so much talk about. Thirty minutes into the verbal fast and she moaned, "I feel abandoned." This morning I burst out in a stream of things to share with her from yesterday - sharing it makes it that much more real.

5. I don't need to say it all. Others will eventually say it for me, or something that's better or more interesting. At the end if it hasn't been said, now's my chance to speak, or maybe by then it won't feel that important anymore.

6. People talk more when I don't. During this silent day I interviewed the fantastic Elke Cole for a magazine article. Instead of the usual back-and-forth Q&A, I just sat back and let her share. After an impressively short time to get over the awkwardness, she talked. Then instead of filling the silence with another leading question, I'd just wait and she'd go deeper, or in a direction I wouldn't have guessed, and that's where the richest stuff was revealed. Near the end, she said, "It's amazing when someone's just listening, how much I want to talk."

7. Silence is a great chick magnet. OK, maybe not so deep, but it's true. Women, and i suppose men too, were fascinated and impressed by me and my little sign. Stopped to read it, commented, smiled, sometimes mouthed words back thinking they had to be silent too. I wish I'd known this trick when I was young - so much easier than a cute puppy.

8. My voice has many modalities. I cut out blog, facebook, and email as well as voice, and tried to minimize writing notes and pantomime. Even my sign was a powerful communicator, literally stopping a few cars in the street. The goal wasn't to communicate without talking, it was to experience not being heard, not being able to share my needs and feelings and ideas, not being able to be actively part of the shaping and running of the world that runs me.

9. My voice is strong. With little effort I mobilized over $500 and a lot of publicity for VIDEA. Even while silent I supported a presentation at city council opposing "smart" meters, and a seed was planted that I could become an elected council member or some office. Instead of feeling solidarity with the billions of people who feel little or no power against the government, corporations, spouses, etc controlling their lives, I instead felt the full power of my voice.

10. I want to do this again. I want to more regularly explore different ways of communicating and being with the world. I want to remain conscious of my powers and limitations, and how they relate to others around me and around the world. I want to take time for some deep listening, inside and out, and take time to respond I want to continue to support groups like VIDEA and maintain my connection to that active international development world I once immersed myself in (and hope to again, soon, but that's another blog.)

Thank you to those who supported this experience with pledges, smiles, tolerance, good humour, interest. And thank you to all of you who mostly indulge and encourage my blatant lack of silence - may your ears always be as big as my voice.

1 comment:

  1. Finally got to reading this post. Yes I did enjoy the "interview" that clearly felt more like a monologue. I want to invite your readers to try the exercise I mentioned that day with their children:
    On a long boring car ride give each of them 5 Minutes of your silence and listening. Its very awkward at first (for the children as well as the parents) and you will be rewarded for waiting. Sooner or later the words start coming....