I’m a good listener. Or, at least, I think I am. I’ve been told numerous times that I am, so it just might be true.
Most of the time I enjoy listening. I like that people are comfortable to speak freely to me and often times share intimate details about their lives with me. I don’t care so much for drama, gossip, or complaining, but when someone is going through something challenging, or is experiencing growth or is about to grow, I want to support that with listening.
Often I’ll be listening for a while and suddenly the speaker will ask, “And how are you?” and I’m speechless. Such a simple question…
I don’t know what to say.
It is very very possible that I am hoarding my story. If I share it with inelegant words then it might lose its value or meaning to me. If it is not received gently or with care I might feel embarrassed and resentful. Or, it might just be that I express myself better in writing and prefer it over casual conversation. Nothing wrong with that! But here’s what I’ve discovered this last month as I’ve pondered why “how are you?” is such a tough question for me. I actually have a lot to say but I tend to choose actions over words and that’s sometimes tricky to demonstrate over a cappuccino with a cherished acquaintance.
What am I saying? Here are some actions that say a lot:
To listen is to say I am compassionate and have a willingness to surrender judgement while encouraging a fellow to work it out.
To smile is to say there is no danger here and friendship is possible!
To laugh is to say there is playfulness here and mistakes are not only expected but encouraged.
To shower and groom says I take care of myself and am approachable.
To make eye contact says you are valuable to me and we are the same.
So, how am I? At present I am compassionate, friendly, playful, approachable and I value you.
A very wise teacher said, “Speech is highly valuable.” He also said, “We never want to miss a great opportunity to keep our mouth shut.”
I really love the idea behind this wisdom and have taken it to heart. That’s not to say that I’m not sometimes a full on blabber mouth or that I don’t sometimes have beautiful philosophical debates with my friends. I do. But I’m learning that many things don’t need to be put into words; you know the old adage, actions speak louder than words. Totally true. Believing that “Speech is highly valuable” allows us to choose our words wisely and simply.
To write is to say I have carefully chosen my words to convey a message that I believe has value.
As we presently witness the world turning over itself socially and politically, my teacher’s words have never resonated more deeply. Do you want to be part of the chatter and noise or do you want to take action?
To vote is to say I take responsibility for the future welfare of my fellow citizens and myself. It also says I am grateful for those who fought hard so that I can vote and participate in democracy.
To give to charity says my money is not only for me but for the causes I believe in.
To volunteer is to say my time is well spent on those who have less than me.
To protest is to say I will not be manipulated by dishonesty and greed and I will hold those perpetrating such foul behavior accountable.
To support is to say I value the actions of those around me who demonstrate what I believe to be true and who have honest values.
To create is to say I have something valuable to add that I think you might benefit from.
To love is to say I understand that there are no real differences between us. We may disagree and have different life experiences but we are in fact all human.
To listen, to smile, to laugh, to take care of yourself, to make eye contact, to vote, to give, to volunteer, to protest, to support, to create, to love. There are so many actions to be taken.
How are you? Show me. What do you have to say?
Photograph: Suffragists marching, 1913, via Library of Congress