Friday, February 18, 2011

The Silent Treatment

The New York Times recently ran an article about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. For the past five years, Thomas has been silent during all of the court's proceedings. Behind closed doors he engages with colleagues on the Court, however during the public arguments Thomas refrains from asking questions or inserting comments. This has raised a bit of stir over the years and, like anything in the government, much of the support/criticism depends on your political leanings. Still, I found this article interesting for a different reason. It made me think about the power of listening. It seems to me that most of us, myself included, love to speak more than we love to listen. In reality, what we call "listening" is more often simply "hearing". We hear the other person speaking and wait patiently for our turn to talk. While others speak we formulate our anticipated response rather than tune in to what is actually being said.

Yet pure listening is an incredibly powerful way to affirm those around us. We feel valued when we are listened to, when our ideas are given the merit to warrant undivided attention. We value others when we give them our attention. With the ever-present distraction of technology, undivided attention is a rare commodity. How many times do I pull out my cell phone to respond to a text message at the family dinner table? How often am I caught playing Words With Friends in the midst of a discussion? My undivided attention is a difficult horse to lasso (I had to throw that in there since I'm headed to Texas in 2 hours) but it brings power to my relationships when I harness it for others.

Whether or not Clarence Thomas' silence in court is true "listening", I do not know. However, this article left me feeling challenged to be slow to speak and quick to listen...not just patient to speak and quick to hear.

- Joel

New York Times - "No Argument: Thomas Keeps 5-Year Silence"


Cassie said...

amen. thanks for listening to me today on ichat!

Mom said...

Great reminder to be an undistracted listener. I need that reminder often.