On Shutting Up

I’m a talker, as my family can tell you. As a kid, I forced my younger sisters to be cohosts in my homemade talkshows (full productions, mind you, with commercials and teasers). When I wasn’t hunched in front of a tape recorder, I was cobbling together plays and giving myself the most lines or putting my Barbies between a rock and a hard place and making them talk their way out.

Oh! And I’ve always loved a good argument. I distinctly remember insisting to my mother that one thousand is greater than one million (she closed her eyes before I’d finished).

More words than bangs, even.
This kid has some thoughts to share.

Fast forward to now. While I (mostly) know how to curb my verbal enthusiasm as an adult, I still love a good debate. OrĀ  an impassioned monologue. Or a play. I listen to an ever-increasing line-up of podcasts and dream of hosting my own someday. I explain my teenagers to death. I give my husband the backstory.

Increasingly, though, I’m convinced that the way to be a good human (and storyteller) is to be a good listener.

Of course, listening to other people carries some risk. I might hear something I don’t like, for instance. I might have to give up an opportunity to argue my point or to correct someone’s misunderstanding. I might feel uncomfortable, for crying out loud.

But it’s the only way to grow in empathy. And to become a better listener, one needs to practice. I figure it’s a skill like anything else, and one of the ways I’m developing it is by reading voices different from my own and attempting to understand where they’re coming from. It feels less intimidating than sitting across from someone and staring into her eyes while she pours her heart out (though I’m trying to do that, too). Yes, I think reading is helping me listen better. I think it is. I hope. (You can ask my teenagers).

What about you? Are you a good listener? Do you seek out perspectives different from your own and try to understand them?