He Decided to Shut Up and Listen0
By Bruce Apar
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln, 1858
The best advice is timeless advice.
There’s a divisiveness that’s so thick in today’s America you could cut it with a knife. What have we become? We don’t talk to each other when we disagree. We insult each other. We don’t try to understand each other. We try to discredit and demean each other. When sharing closely held opinions, we don’t use media like Facebook to be social. We use it to be anti-social.
Today’s tin-ear caliber of communications is not about a couple of candidates. It’s about 325 million of us. It’s a huge number that will never agree on everything, or even anything. But will we ever again treat each other’s opinions with respect and tolerance? It’s becoming harder by the day to be optimistic about collectively coming even close to that Valhalla of civil discourse.
We all should listen to John Francis. He’s a unique person, to be sure, but his uniqueness is worthy of imitation—in degrees—and adulation.
As a young man, John talked a lot. He admits now that even when he listened, he did what most of us do in that mode: “I realized I would race ahead to think what I was going to say back, and then I launched in. That ended communication.”
He decided to try an experiment, so on his 27th birthday, in 1973, he stopped speaking for a day. To his surprise, he enjoyed listening and not speaking so much that his vow of silence lasted a year. Then another year. And another. He didn’t speak again until 1990, 17 years later.
During that time, he became a U.N. ambassador and not only earned a masters and a Ph.D. in environmental science, but also taught a college course. All without ever speaking, and without ever riding in a motorized vehicle. He walked the planet.
Here’s the moral of the story for the rest of us, in Dr. Francis’s own words, as spoken at a TED Conference that can be viewed at TED.com:
“We need to listen to each other. I thought to myself how could walking and not talking make a difference? My idea of what the environment is changed from just trees and birds and endangered species to how we treated each other. If we are the environment, all we have to do is look around us and see how we treat ourselves and how we treat each other.”
Dr. Francis said of his transition back to speaking, “I knew I needed to change. We need to leave the security of who we’ve become and go to the place of who we are becoming.
“I encourage you to go to that next place, to let yourself out of any prison you might find yourself in, as comfortable as it may be, because we have to do something now. We have to change now.”
Do we ever.
Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Google Partner Agency, Pinpoint Marketing & Design, as well as an actor and a regular contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 275-6887.