Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Listening (without your ears)


I come against a constant roadblock everyday. Everywhere I go. My problem? I'm illiterate...

...in Taiwan, anyways. I don't speak or read or write Mandarin. Sure, I know some, but... not a lot. Not enough to know what's going on around me at all times. One friend likened it to the condition of a four year old.

But I'm not a four year old. Arguable, sure. But I'm not. And so, I've fought to keep myself aware of my surroundings, engaged in conversations.

One of the members of my Taiwan Family is the matriarchal Grandmother of the house. She doesn't speak any English, but we sit down during meals, often just her and I, and enjoy conversations at length. Other family members will butt into our conversations from time to time, doubting our ability to communicate. They'll ask me what she said, and more often than not, I can give them a fairly accurate answer to the gist of the conversation.

"Wow! Your Chinese is so good now!" is their common response. But I know that's not true.

A budding vocabulary helps, but I've learned to do this by heightening and engaging my other senses. Many become so accustomed to conversing with mouth and ears (and some, just with their mouth), that many have forgotten the other elements of conversation.

Conversation is about putting yourself in the place of that person. Knowing what they are thinking and feeling. Empathizing. Not so that you can get the next word in, but because you care.

I often fear we've stopped teaching how to care.

Or maybe it's our reliance on digital communication that's forced our mind into a 2D understanding of life.

But life isn't flat.

By no means am I claiming to be an expert on this. If anything at all, I'm simply an observer, firsthand, reporting my side of the Conversation. This year, I've intentionally focused on a handful of lessons I felt Taiwan could teach me: one being Communication.

And I have learned. And I'm still learning.

But I realized, Communication doesn't happen by accident. It takes two or more people who care enough to focus on each other.

When the focus is that intentional, spoken words become merely one set of tools in the box of communication.

Tools need to be used well to be effective, but the point is not the tool. The point is not the words. The point is the people. For me, it's always the people.

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How do you communicate without words? Do you do so consciously or unconsciously? With intention, or by accident?

11 comments:

Maggie said...

"I often fear we've stopped teaching how to care." So good,and so true!

BLOGitse said...

Hi Chase!
Haven't "seen" you for a looooong time!
How're you doing? Happy?

Nice you came to visit! :)

Andhari said...

The experience and the practice are what's really important here. And I think the Taiwanese grandma enjoys your company whether you speak the same language or not. You have awesome connections :)

Kristy said...

Chase, I find now that I'm a grandmother and older and wiser . . lol, I find that communicating with younger people is easier. Communicating to me is often without words . . that just shows how very kind you truly are!

SuzANNE said...

Great post... my favorite part is this: "But I realized, Communication doesn't happen by accident. It takes two or more people who care enough to focus on each other". Please tell that to my ex boyfriend.

Sebastian said...

Hm, I'm pretty sure understanding the words/communication is vital -- unless you're Flipper or Skippy or something.

I think what Kristy said is accurate though -- the quality and your overall ability to communicate improves as you get older. Or if not quality, at least fidelity.

Those expressive shrugs, eye movements, hand gestures -- they all take years to master!

And something you didn't mention: the art of getting the communication across to a recipient is even more important than the understanding of it! Sure, being able enough to understand her is important, but the ability to communicate her ideas to you is far more difficult :)

Carson Leith said...

yes yes yes. it must be awesome conversing with them. i love trying to converse with someone in a diff. language then you're used to. it definitely stretches you to use all of your senses as you mentioned.

Samantha said...

I am so sorry that I've been such a bad blogging friend! This is one of my favorite entries so far, though.

I would be anxious, but I'd love to try to focus on communicating with someone who I didn't understand verbally. There's so many people that I run into daily who speak a different language, and I don't even attempt to converse- because I just assume I won't be able to understand.

You're good, you.

floreta said...

i've been reading a lot, and some of the things i've been reading remind me of this post. which makes me smile :)

Chase said...

@Maggie, isn't it? It's been a growing fear lately.

@BLOGiste, good to "see" you too!
Doing well. :) Keep taking those photos

@Andhari, I completely agree: "Experience and Practice" well said, friend :)

@Kristy, interesting observation. As in it's easier to communicate with kids than adults? I wonder why that is. Maybe kids are more open to communication w/o words...hmm. :) Thanks!

@SuzANNE, haha, I'll be sure to pass along the memo.

@Sebastian, I fully agree that I left out a big part of the equation. Communication is far more than just listening - conveying your message is equally essential. And that includes non-verbals too.

@Carson, stretching for sure, but life-giving all the same.

@Samantha, I know first hand that foreigners appreciate when native speakers go an extra mile to communicate with them. The people at your work might not speak English, but they will love you all the same if you take the time - and risk looking a little silly - in trying to communicate with them. They've already committed to looking silly and communicating with "you" by being there.

@Floreta, keep smiling. :)

thousandsofmiles said...

Wow this is possibly my favorite post on your blog so far. Nice. I might just re-read that again later. A good lesson I could use and need to learn too.