Monday, May 16, 2011

IF YOU REALLY NEED TO BE HEARD... don't say anything

This is a weird period in my life. I'm looking for a job, but that gets old really quick. You can only look at lists of jobs that you aren't interested in or not qualified for for so long. I've also been spending time with family and that has been great. In my free time I've been reading and watching stuff. Last week I watched a TED video about a guy that found that he spent too much time trying to convince people to be environmentally friendly and not enough time listening. One day, he decided to go a day without talking; a day of silence. He ended up going 17 years without talking.

I've also been reading a book called, "The Tao of Inner Peace" and it has challenged me to do some different things. I keep thinking that I should, but not now. I thought of doing a day of silence, but I kept thinking that I needed a cause. I wanted to spend a day or week in silence to commemorate something or to make a point. I don't have anything to commemorate or points to make, so I put it off. As I continued reading my book, I kept thinking that there are a lot of things that I keep putting off for one reason or another. Therefore, I decided to be silent today just because it is what I feel I should do. Boy, I wish it had been more important, but I'm just doing it for myself.

I didn't really tell anyone I was going to do it today, but I had talked to my wife about being silent at some point. When I woke up today, I thought of it, so I haven't spoken today. It was funny, after being up for 10-15 minutes my wife looked at me and said, "Oh, I get it, you're not talking today".

While the day isn't over, I've learned TONS by doing this. The first thing is the power of silence. Normally when my kids start to fight, I tell them to knock it off. And if they continue, I would have said it louder until they stopped. Today, that wasn't an option. I saw the kids fighting, I walked up behind them and placed my hands gently on their shoulders. You should have seen the looks in their eyes. I didn't have to say a word.

I thought it was interesting how people follow my lead. I was serving breakfast and asking which piece of the oven pancake that the kids wanted by pointing. The boys would stop talking to communicate with my by pointing. they would use my language. I wonder how often my kids follow my cue and speak my language. In fact, that thought sort of frightens me sometimes.

In my home being silent was fine because people understood what I was doing. When I took one of my boys to the park, a stranger showed up with her daughter. She said Hi. I nodded. She asked how old my son was. I held up three three fingers. This conversation was getting awkward, so I just started ignoring her. That is not my style, and I felt terrible. I felt that I was being rude because I wasn't speaking to her. Then I thought for a moment. I have this terrible habit of thinking of what I'm going to say next while people are talking instead of actually listening to them. And then I spent time fuming internally as I seek for an opportunity to interject into a conversation. When I finally do get to say something I feel dumb because it should have been said a lot earlier in the conversation. I have this amazing ability to end conversations by saying something that doesn't quite fit in and causes everyone else to stop talking.

So I'm at the park feeling like I'm being rude, but thinking that in reality I am far more rude every day in my interactions with my friends. I need to learn how to really listen, but I'm always afraid that I'll be even more left out of conversations than usual. Bottom line is that I need work on my listening.

Another thing that I loved about today was the physical contact. I'm not a touchy person, but it's really hard to get someone's attention when you aren't talking. So when I needed to talk with my boys, I put a hand on them and they turned to me. When I was opening the oven and my sister-in-law was standing nearby, I put my hand on her back to let her know that I was about to burn the back of her knees. It wasn't a lot of contact, but it is a form of communication that I just don't use very often.

I did slip up a couple of times. The first one was sort of embarrassing. I was out on a bike ride and I had a hypothetical conversation that was going on in my head (please don't tell me that I'm the only one that has these conversations). The next thing I knew, I said something out loud. So if a guy who has a day of silence accidentally talks in the forest and nobody hears it, did he really talk?

This afternoon, my 3-year-old came in and started tickling my feet. I happen to be extremely ticklish, so I immediately asked him to KNOCK IT OFF and it was out loud. Then this evening, my wife was reading the boys a bed-time story and she made a comment and I started to respond.

I very much enjoyed the experience today. I don't think that I have the courage to do it regularly or on a day that I needed to work. (What would a potential employer say if you showed up and refused to talk, but rather wrote or acted out all of your responses? Next interview that I don't really want, I'm going to try it.) The video that started it all off, that guy found a job and taught college classes without speaking. He even walked from San Fransisco to Missoula to take the job and start going to school there. I wish I could do that, but I'm just not that guy.

My overall take on the experience: I missed talking to my wife. I felt rude not talking to people I encountered. I felt guilty talking to myself. I liked a lot of the silent communication with my children, but some words would have been good. I liked some physical communication.

This evening, my wife asked me what I thought of the day; how I thought it went. I gave her a thumbs up (I hate that gesture, it feels cheesy, but I used it a lot today). I then pointed at her to 'ask' what she thought. She said that she really liked it...