Discover more from The Art of Noticing
Listening with Silence
TAoN No. 128: A quiet experiment and a "pocket of possibility." Plus a new icebreaker, and more.
NOTE: If you’re looking for a way to try to help out victims of the incredibly tragic Turkey/Syria earthquake, a couple of Turkish friends have endorsed the Turkish Philanthropy Funds; one is doing his own fundraiser under that umbrella, and his page also lists additional NGOs and organizations to consider.
Via DALL-E 2
A Washington Post essay the other day raised a question: What would happen if you didn’t talk about yourself for 24 hours?
This was in a specific romantic-partnership context (“showing love sometimes means shutting up”), but it’s an interesting line of thought in general. And it reminded me of a book I read a few weeks back as part of some research I’ve been doing: You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, by Kate Murphy. (Bookshop.org link.)
Possibly my favorite chapter involves the role that, well, shutting up, can play in listening well to others. This includes something as simple as resisting the very human urge to blurt into every conversational pause and just allow whoever you’re listening to collect and finish their their thoughts.
“To be a good listener is to accept pauses and silences because filling them too soon, much less preemptively, prevents the speaker from communicating what they are perhaps struggling to say.”
That may seem like an intuitive point, but Murphy adds some other, more extreme examples of staying silent that I really liked. Notably:
“For Canadian composer and music educator R. Murray Schafer, silence is a ‘pocket of possibility,’ and to make the point, he sometimes required his students to remain silent for one day. “
Students weren’t crazy about this at first, but:
“At the end of twenty-four hours, many reported a greater awareness and appreciation of not only environmental sounds like the hiss of a lawn sprinkler or murmur of simmering soup but also subtleties in conversation that they would have missed had they been able to talk.”
Murphy also interviews a singer who had to go without speaking for six weeks following vocal cord surgery: “Forced silence, she said, made her realize that she wasn’t a very good listener.” The singer reports:
“I started understanding people better because I didn’t have the option to tell them my opinion, and it also made me more accepting of others because I was able to listen.. … If you can bear to do it for just twenty-four hours … you will learn the unimportance of your words and the importance of other people’s words.”
I realize 24 hours of remaining flat-out silent may not be an option. But I like the spirit. And here’s Murphy’s idea for a milder quiet experiment:
“If a full day seems daunting, try staying silent during a single conversation. Don’t say anything unless asked a question. See what happens.”
Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Brendan Hall:
If the story of your life is 300 pages long — what’s on page 283?
Brendan adds, in response to my query: “As for why Page 283.... yeah, ‘toward the end but not over’ is what I was going for, so you could pick any number in that range really. I also love this because it opens up even more possibilities as you remove assumptions about how a story of your life should be told. I originally found a version of this mentioned as an entrance exam question in a Rolling Stone article about college applications about 20 years ago.”
Please send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the next paid-subscriber-only edition I’ll have a few more listening-related thoughts from Kate Murphy’s book You’re Not Listening. I’m also (still) working on an awe-related post, but I keep getting sidetracked. Soon!
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IN OTHER NEWS
Congrats to leadership expert and friend of TAoN Jann Freed on the publication of her new book, Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering. (I’m quoted from an interview Jann did with me about curiosity.) There’s a discount code, good through the end of March, on her site.
The potential psychological benefits of … commuting.
The Big Payback: Very interseting documentary about an actual reparations policy in Evanston, IL.
Nicolas Polli’s strange transformations of mundane objects.
I enjoyed this interview with Adam Moss, one of the best EICs I ever worked for. Excited to hear he’s working on a cool-sounding book project with Pentagram.
“Swimming is anti-thought, and I think that’s why it’s important to me.”
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments. —> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032. Send me mail! No one sends mail anymore!
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