Taking time out during mid-year is a wonderful practice. When you step back from the rush of your life it gives you time to see it from a new perspective. As one of my colleagues likes to say, if you stay on the dance floor and never make it to the balcony, you’ll never know who’s playing the tune.
We talk a lot about the world being a noisy place. It is interesting how we have co-created this phenomenon. We like to think the rush is exhilarating, but I’ve noticed that actually it is over-stimulating and most of us feel exhausted way down in our ground. It was a profound shock to me to move back to the United States after 35 years away and find TV screens in almost all restaurants and so many public places.
Under the guise of “ambience”, music is played loudly. Once I was in a dentist’s waiting room and asked for the music to be turned down. When they refused, I told them they could find me in the hallway when it came time for my appointment. They wanted to fill the space. I wanted time to think.
Now I am beginning to wonder if Americans — maybe all people in Western societies — are afraid of silence. Maybe they are afraid of the surrender that silence requires. Maybe they are afraid of what they will find there. Maybe they are afraid of facing themselves. Silence is demanding.
Or perhaps they have forgotten the pleasure, the gift, the challenge of listening. Real listening.
In my work with groups over the past 25 years I’ve seen time and again how the power of listening can transform people and situations. At the deepest level, each of us is waiting for that moment when we are truly seen. We are hoping for someone to have the persistence, the commitment, the respect to wait for us to reveal ourselves. So many of us are like flowers in the desert waiting for the rain so we can finally blossom.
The moment I love most in group work is where people lean in. Most often I frame my group storytelling work by telling people that the listener is as powerful — or even more powerful — than the storyteller. We have the ability to “listen out” a bigger or more profound story than the teller thought they would share. Through the focus of our listening we can reveal the unexpected, open the space for emergence, turn over the stone that ends up being gold.
Listening is a skill. It is also an art. It is a key to leadership and to creating the relationships that can weather the storms. And it is one of the simplest and most profound ways to make connection. It is the greatest gift we can give each other. And our world.
The world is always speaking to us. The future is always calling us. Both the tiniest and grandest things are waiting for our attention so they can reveal themselves. One of the greatest actions we can make is to stop for a moment and listen. As one of my young friends said in a gathering years ago, we need to listen louder.