Just because I have thought of something to say doesn't mean it is my turn to talk. Even if my thought is intelligent, helpful, valuable, and heart-warming — still, it might not be the right moment to speak.
Even if (and this is the hardest part for me) what I have to say is funny, and must consume this moment for proper comic timing — still, we might be better off if I don't speak.
I'm struggling with listening.
I don't mean that I am having trouble with my hearing. (I suspect I might be, but that's a topic for another day.)
The real struggle is with the listening of:
taking it in,
and how that competes with the speaking of:
producing words (written or spoken),
holding the floor (or microphone),
It's happening now.
At this very moment, as I type these words, I feel compelled: there is heat in my blood, my breathing is shallow, I feel like I am in a state of pre-pounce. I want to deliver these words. Deeply want. It is a powerful force. I just saw the glisten of sweat on my thumb.
I'm not listening. I'm calculating, composing, compulsed.
I must hurry.
I feel rushed by the fear of being late with my ideas.
What is the cost of delay?
- Someone else might publish this same idea, and I will be a hack.
- Another day will pass with you wondering if I will ever produce an original thought — and this might be that thought!
- This thought might help you today. If I dally, you won't be served by the idea when you need it today.
- I might die before sharing this thought. If you are not a writer, this might sound gloomy and self-aggrandizing. But the urgency of writing connects me to my mortality. The death of a writer — Oliver Sacks comes to mind — is so painful.
And still: today might not be the right time for me to speak, to publish this piece. Perhaps I might hold my tongue, so that I can compose and revise (with the help of others) — for a stronger, more effective, more artful message?
We are rewarded for speaking.
As children we are rewarded for our words. (We are also punished for some of our words, but this isn't about that.) As we grow, we are rewarded for the etiquette of speech (knowing others' names) and advocating for our place in the classroom and boardroom.
But this isn't really about the speech of our vocal chords. And this isn't about the physical sense of hearing. I believe this is as true in Deaf Culture as it is in the general public, perhaps even more so, because of how communication is treasured.
For so much of my life, both professional and personally, I thought that I proved my competence by speaking and writing. By persuading others. By verbally demonstrating my talent.
Lately, I have learned: a deeper competence is in listening. (Hang on, Fast Listeners. I don't mean simple listening. Stay with me, O Brilliant Ones.)
Let's Climb Together.
Maimonides described levels of charity. Levering the Ladder of Tzedakah of the Rambam, here is a ladder of listening, each rung higher than the preceding one:
- Bombast, shouting down — You know this. Television, radio and social media thrive on it. This is when it is not enough that I am right; I must prove you wrong. Scorched earth. Listening is merely a search for stimulus that provokes me. One-inch fuse. Boom. What's good about this? It is communication.
- Blathering — Talking for the sake of talking. This is when I say whatever comes to my mind. No filter. Here you go. Word vomit. Rat-a-tat-tat. It is honest sharing.
- Willful ignorance — Intentionally ignoring the thoughts of others. I might be quiet, but I really don't care what you say, or who you are, or that you are here. I leave you alone to your thoughts.
- Firehose — To prove my competence, I will blast you with my brilliance. This includes all recitation of poetry (and the telling of many jokes). I am giving you my fullest dose of my thinking.
- Waiting for my turn — This is the first rung that appears to be polite. On this rung of the ladder, I am watching you; I see your lips moving; I feel that peculiar wind; your voice is noise. I am waiting for you to breathe, so that I might say "Yes, but…" and grab the microphone. We take turns.
- Listening to be right — You are talking. I am listening hard (I am squinting) to hear you agree with me. Then I will know that I am talking good. I am instructing.
- Yes, and — In this case, I do not dismiss you with "Yes, but…" Rather, I honor your words by building on them. We are co-creating.
- Active listening — This is wonderment, the asking of Level 3 questions: deeper than Level 1 (interrogation for facts) and Level 2 (persuasive questioning). This is when my not knowing is more valuable than my knowing. We are exploring your heart and mind together.
- Listening as an act of engaging with the present — This is sitting and walking meditation. This is an act of the Divine.
The destruction of the Second Temple has been attributed to the foul speech, lashon hara (bad tongue, like to bad mouth).
I wonder if our current problems — a metaphoric shaking of the Third Temple of the Diaspora — is because we don't hear each other. We aren't listening to each other. Is that ozen hara (evil ear, as in to turn a deaf ear)?
[I'm hoping an educated friend will correct my Hebrew.]
I am indebted to many teachers on this subject.
They include (a very partial list): John Detrick, Kevin Morrin, Alice Miskimin, Kent Brown, Karen Hough, Stephanie Rooney, Adam Harris, Janet Fogarty & Jansen Chazanof, Or Mars, my Vistage members, and my beloved family.
This is a first draft of a sermon I plan to give as the scholar-in-residence at Congregation Kol Shofar, Tiburon, California, December 4th-5th.