and then...listen

I've said before that writers are often pretty abysmal when it comes to speaking, even if they're good at writing. Public speaking is different; that's writing. But small group interactions, and sometimes even one on one discussions are completely lost on us. 

I may have come at this from the perspective that I've combatted this myself, but the fact is, I'm bad at talking, too. I need time to think about what I'll say, and how I'll say it. I want to find the right way. And like all fiction writers, I'm spending at least half my energy interpretating the tone and body language of the person who is supposed to be listening to me. 

It's a tiny percentage of humanity that has learned how to listen. Sarcasm and obnoxious attitudes have fused to socialization because people have to be funny or loud to feel heard. 

I am speaking from a Western perspective, although I'm sure that this phenomenon is global; we are taught to  provide and not to receive. Creativity, passion, all of that is providing. It's productive. But it's only half the picture. Let's look again at this listening bit. 

When was the last time that someone really heard you, and wasn't waiting for the slip of space in your thoughts where they could inject their own? We have learned how to speak defensively, trying to make sure that we don't disappear. That kind of aggression is more exhausting for some than others. I, myself, have given up on it because it's tiring for me. I would rather disappear. For a long time I didn't know what it was like to be heard, but then I met Carl Kurtz; may he rest in peace. A mentor to so many, he was no stranger to hearing others try to air their grievances. But when I spoke to him, he was present. Looking. Breathing. Receiving, and yes, discerning. Not judging, but discerning. Who I was, what I was trying to express, and how it was related to the moment at hand, even when parts of it didn't relate at all. 

The next time to try to listen to someone, breathe into your stomach. Give your brain all the blood it needs. Listen long enough to let them bring their fists down a little. Many of you have tried this already. Despite everything you've been exposed to, you really want to learn to listen. Well, that's why you're a writer. There are some people who haven't nailed the sarcasm, or the ease of speech. Maybe we all stutter. But part of being a writer comes from the overwhelming urge we all have to be heard.