Shut Up and Listen
I attended my first protest when I was eleven years old. My school organized a field trip for the 4th grade to visit Sacramento, the state capital, for a fun ‘educational’ day. What they forgot to mention to most of the parents (including the ones that were chaperoning the event) was that we were really going to take part in a demonstration organized by the San Francisco school district to protest against large budget cuts that were effecting our schools. I remember being captivated and a little bit frightened by all of the people, the yelling, the singing and the marching. It felt very historical, as if this particular protest would have a huge effect on the outcome of the history of the California School Districts, and it felt important to be a part of it. The organizers of the event had asked each school to assign two representatives who would speak to the crowd during the protest. Some students prepared detailed speeches while others rapped or expressed themselves with haiku and interpretative dance (What? That’s how we roll in SF). But the speech I remember the most came from a twelve-year-old with a megaphone. It’s not so much the speech I remember as much as it was how the crowd was captivated by his dynamic stage presence. It wasn’t because he had something particularly interesting or unique to say about the situation, it was because he had the advantage of a megaphone, which made him much louder and clearer than all of the other students who tried talking into a broken microphone over hundreds of protesters. That’s the way to do it, I thought. If you want people to listen to you, be loud, be dynamic, use your inner megaphone and you’ll never be denied of anything ever again.
We live in a world full of people with megaphones. I’ve lived most of my life with a megaphone practically glued to my lips. “HERE IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY AND YOU WILL LISTEN AND AGREE NO MATTER WHAT I SAY BECAUSE MY VOICE IS SO LOUD AND POWERFUL.” It’s like the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard himself is a spineless, coward of a man, but with a voice like that, who could say no?! In this world full of megaphones, the problem is not getting your voice out there, but rather getting people to actually listen. The art of communication is lost because people are completely focused on talking (at the highest volume possible), but no one thinks about listening. People are too busy and have too much to do, and would rather not waste their previous time communicating. It’s not so much what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, it’s all about volume. People speak for the sake of hearing their own voices, not for the sake of communicating and creating a healthy, positive relationship with the person they’re talking to (or more like talking at). What’s it going to take to make healthy relationships a priority again?
Why is it so hard to be heard? Why is to difficult to really listen to a person when they speak? Why can’t be poke our heads out from behind our iPhone screens and really listen?
It’s a matter of vulnerability. Being seen, in the real, beautiful raw way of being seen, is such a vulnerable state, and G-d forbid, you wouldn’t want to expose such a deep, unseen side of yourself to just anybody. The more vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to get hurt. However, the way to reach a true, deep connection with another person is by opening yourself up and by being willing to be vulnerable. Let me give you an example: Last week was a really, really rough week for me. I was juggling a lot, and in the process of trying to find my footing, I received some uncomfortable news which sent me into a bit of a spiral. I was surrounded by so many people, all of whom had great intentions, but none who were really listening to what I had to say. What I needed was not to be met with their thoughts, feelings and advice on the situation. What I really needed was someone who would look me in the eye when I was talking to them, and see me. As Lily Moscowitz would so eloquently put it: SHUT UP AND LISTEN. I’m not saying that the people I was around did not know how to achieve the level of connection that I felt was necessary, they were simply following the unspoken rule of society to not let anything in or out. I couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable and open up because they were not willing to receive the openness. They didn’t want to see me and I didn’t want to see them. No eye contact, no direct conversation, just a very flimsy, floppy attempt at connecting. My sister and I use the term ‘just listening’ in some of the conversations we have as a way of letting the other person know that what we really need out of this conversation is to be seen, and heard, not talked at or to. But, I can’t just say that to everyone, can I? Well, the connection that made me feel seen and heard came from someone I barely know. Last night, I attended a class on how to make relationships powerful and real. We did an exercise in which two people sat face to face and just looked at each other silently for two minutes. Each person was meant to spend those two minutes peering into the eyes of the other person and see them. Let me tell you, it was intense. I was not expecting to get so emotional, so vulnerable just because someone was really, truly looking me in the eye. Woah. This is what I had been looking for, this is what my soul was craving. Just to be seen, just to be understood. No words, gestures, hugs or even a facial expression. Sometimes, a look of understanding is all you need. No megaphones, no microphones, not even your regular, indoors voice. I couldn’t help but think about how much healthier all of my relationships would be if I allowed myself to be seen in such a way by the people who really matter to me. How much deeper could my relationships be if I spoke, and listened, without the veil of social presentation covering my eyes?
It comes down to this: If you want to be seen, heard and understood in the most genuine way possible, be open to the possiblity of vulnerability. Allow yourself to be open. I know it’s a scary place, a place very few people dare to venture, but just try it. Try moving the masks away and really looking at a person the next time they engaged in conversation with you.
I’m going to put my iPad down, shut up and listen the next time anyone has something to say. What about you?