In primary school I would talk for hours walking home from school with my friends. Then when we got home and left our bags it would be even more talking and walking in the neighbourhood. We must have covered serious mileage, I’m talking lots of kilometres in the hood, if only we kept up that incredible fitness regime. It was intense and very consistent. I have no doubt some people wondered what we were up to or talking about it. We would talk until late or we simply had to get on with other things.
Now where am I going with this? Wait for me. Hear me out. This business of talking non stop came to an abrupt halt. How? Let me tell you. I learnt to keep my lips together. I learnt to shut up. I have learnt realised over the years that there is something called silence, yes just shutting up. I have discovered the amazing power of silence in my life, of being still. What happens when the lips stop moving? What takes place when the mind slows down? Instead of thinking a great many things , how about thinking of a small thing like the dot on the wall. If you can do it how about thinking of nothing. If your mind were an artist’s canvass it would be blank with nothing on it.
I’m not sure when exactly or how I realised the power of silence. It has come in starts and stops over the years. Maybe it was the struggles I’ve had with a short temper over the years. I have realised that my short temper was linked to impatience. I wanted things done my own way and quickly.
Perhaps it was the time when I was speaking to a friend who after hearing what I had to say who be quiet for a little bit. At first it bothered me a great deal that no one was saying anything in the conversation. Why was nothing happening? Where were the words? Why wasn’t someone talking? When would this nonsense stop? Suddenly I realised something. When I allowed those moments of silence I let the message simmer. I was able to think a bit more about what had been said. The usual ping pong of conversation had stopped. This was a wow moment, an aha for me. There’s so much to learn.
Or could it be the long conversations I used to have with my mentor back in Zimbabwe. Sometimes I would say something and it would seem like he was ignoring me but he wasn’t. He would take time to respond. It was not a rushed reply but a careful considered one. Powerful words that would change the way I looked at things.
As much I loved talking I realised that it should be a two way street. This I was reminded by observant friends as well. A friend had pointed that hey Bruce, you are in such a hurry to express your ideas that you simply do not listen to anything I am actually saying. I really needed that. It was a wake up call. If you love to talk why not love to listen. If you love to talk and don’t bother listening, you might as well talk to yourself. Is this not being self absorbed?
Sometimes I wanted to talk and share my ideas so much that even before someone finished what they were saying I was already sharing my own epic story. Why wait? Just get on with it. It doesn’t help that I can speak or write fast. At the end of the day it just led to consistently poor communication. They say one of the great problems with communication is the fallacy that it has actually taken place.
It didn’t matter whether I was talking to a really good friend or my toddlers. Then I was reminded that everything does not need to be said today, right now. Things can wait. Other people love to be listened to, they love to be appreciated. Who doesn’t? So why try to say everything and miss out on the amazing ideas and thoughts that others have to share as well?
Because of these two late developments in my life, listening and silence, my conversations have changed a great deal. I still talk a great deal, much more than most people I know. But now I go over what the world is saying to me as well. It has affected and influenced the way I use social media in a profound way. In the past it was critical for me to be seen and heard, to try and be the centre of attention, to get lots of likes and comments on what I’ve shared. In a WhatsApp group I had to express my thoughts as well. Now I can be present without saying much but taking a great deal of what’s being shared. It helps me to understand others much more. I find that speaking and talking less also gives others a chance to be heard. I think that I’m much more aware of what’s going on in the world around me, much more than ever before.
I’ve already seen that my boys, my children love to talk. Sometimes we can talk for hours about all sorts and they never seem to get tired. This is very familiar. I suspect they talk much more than I did when I was their age. The next big lessons I would like to share with them are silence and listening. Who knows what it will do for them? It’s done wonders for me. So I would summarise the approach as: Speak less, listen more, think, reflect and empathise more. Then see what happens! Hope you have an awesome day and week. All the best in everything.