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