For one day in South Africa, I decided not to speak. Twenty-four hours of silence. One full revolution around the sun without saying a word. The real value of my day of silence was that it taught me about listening.
It takes a lot of humility to listen. Not speaking is hard. Any little thing I think I might be right about, I want to share. I’m desperate to share it! Keeping quiet when I knew an answer was excruciating.
I also watched people speak over one another. I watched people barely be able to contain themselves because they had something they wanted to say. They didn’t want to be rude, but they weren’t hearing anything else. They were measuring pauses, waiting for a space large enough to jump into.
I felt the same way. The speaking fast held me at bay. There were moments when I forgot and a syllable squeaked out. I wanted so badly to be involved, to be heard.
By far, the best thing about a day of not speaking is that I got to hear others. Really hear them. As hard as it was to be quiet, it was also strangely freeing. The longer the day went on, the greater I was able to see and appreciate others much more than normal.
I was able to focus on something other than myself. As we stood in a circle and each person, other than me, took turns talking, I watched intently. I noticed their facial muscles. Their words sunk in. I nodded at something profound as the conversation raced ahead, most others in the circle so ready to speak that they had missed the great thing that was just expressed!
As the day wore on, the challenge of curiosity became greater and greater. I wanted to know more about what people were saying. I wanted to ask them questions. I wanted to hear more! Ironic, isn’t it? On the day I couldn’t say anything, it was hearing I couldn’t get enough of.
The next day, I woke up and stretched in my bunk underneath the South African sun.
“It’s gonna be a good day,” I said.
“Hello,” I sang as I walked into breakfast. I got all the look-who’s-talking-again nods and thumbs-up.
They asked about my day of silence and as we started talking all the old patterns flooded back in.
But I never forgot what I learned that day. I never forgot how much I loved that day.
I was missing half of what it means to be in communication with people. Half of what conversation had to say to me. Blinded by my own need for validation and my deep desire to be right, I was looking right past the value of others.
My day of silence was not a day of silence. It was a day that I didn’t speak. But perhaps it was the most positive day of noise I’ve ever experienced.