If there is one thing that I would like to take back from my pre-parenting days, it is the ability to create silence when I want to. I have to admit that I tend to blame my step-daughter for breaking the silence. But I am wrong about that. The reason I am wrong about that is not that she cannot be very loud. She can be. It is that the rest of the world has become so noisy that I cannot hear myself think.
We live in a world where silence is hard to come by. Max Picard wrote in the first half of the 20th century that
Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence.
My step-daughter is not to blame for the change in the world. She is suffering from it. Her noise is often her own way of dealing with all the stress that she has endured in this loud world. We all are suffering. And our parenting suffers too.
There would be no reason to teach anybody any listening practice, if silence were a companion in our lives. Listening would be as natural as breathing. But it is my wife Angela's job to teach parents listening tools, exactly because they live such noisy lives.
Parenting starts not by demanding silence from our children, but by creating a space for silence in ourselves from which we can listen to them.
If we want our children to listen, we first need to listen to them. There is no other way to teach listening genuinely than this. Any other way of imposing silence is a way of shutting down children. There is a distinct difference between children who have been silenced, and those who can be quiet. There is a difference between shut-down and at peace.
Both parents and leaders can listen better. Let alone leading parents.
Tom Peters has been urging leaders to listen for some time now, and continues to do so. It is the ultimate form of respect, he reminds us. As that is true for leaders, so it is for parents. Listening to children is our way of showing them respect.
Likewise, John Maxwell reminds us that
If you ask questions and you want real answers, you have no choice but to let people know that you are actually listening to those answers. That seems like a simple truism. And yet, we all know the joke: if I want your opinion, I will give it to you.
How often do parents think that way? Not consciously, not spitefully. But the stresses in our lives accumulate to the point where we can no longer hear ourselves think. Parenting is hard. And too much noise is interfering with our ability to listen to our children, to enjoy them.
Only by listening deeply can parents discern the important pieces of information that are right in front of us. The sullen presence of a child, the irritating tone of voice, the indifferent shrug of the shoulders, these are all signs of a child's emotional state. These are not "bad behavior." They are in distress, which is no wonder since they spend so much of their time in school. Schools are prisons to them and intensely dangerous and stressful.
That is why deep listening is the first step to increasing children's empathy. Yes, the stress in children's lives make them less empathetic. But reducing their stress cannot be a one-sided affair of something we do for them. We can teach them and talk to them about all the important things we know of. But only when we come along side them, quietly, presently, will they believe and feel that our empathy for them is real.
Children's empathy is already present. It can be taken away by a noisy society that doesn't listen to them. But I firmly believe that we cannot inculcate empathy where it didn't exist. That we can take it away is alas, all too evident in our politicians. But your child? She is full of empathy. All you have have to do is create a space in yourself to see and hear it.
What place does silence have in your life?
Finally, I here is the trailer if what I hope will be a highly successful film. I know that I want to see it.