Are we really listening?
"A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker.
A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker."
The above quote is from, "Improvisation at the Speed of Life; The TJ & Dave Book," by T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi with Pam Victor. I read improv books to further my comedy education and, because.... I like books. But, let's not get into a competition about how many books I've read versus how many books you've read, because I know I will lose. I am a self-identified slow reader and I mostly read books about improv comedy or medical coding manuals. Both of which are for my own personal interests and job security. (If you have a suggestion for a book for me to read, please leave it in the comments below. Thank you.)
Let's bring the subject back around to TJ & Dave, shall we? For the 4th of July holiday I wanted to highlight their chapters on, "Listening." Seems quaint, right?! We listen all the time. I listen to music while I am cooking, I listen to my Mom on the phone while I am running errands to the store, or I listen to the news in the background at the laundromat. But, what am I hearing? Noise.
(Sorry Mom, call you back in a bit.)
As an Improviser, it is part of my job to listen. Or, as TJ and Dave put it, "No, we mean really listening." They dive further into the subject by describing the emotional experience and focus it takes to really being heard. We aren't used to it. Being listened to feels strange and uncomfortable. The other side of the conversation, is silence. TJ & Dave's insights on listening goes into the duality of silence and how much can be said in those quiet moments.
From personal experience, I can attest that when I am quiet on stage it is because my character has made a choice to be brave. Not, Winn. Winn is chatty.
In order to understand the difference between listening and hearing is a personal choice, and improv makes me notice the difference. For example, I know to call my Mom back when I am just "hearing" her and not "listening," because she deserves the respect to be listened to by her daughter and we really do need to decide which of the clothes that she purchased needs to be returned to the store. Apparently, I am inheriting everything.
However, when I listen to my Mother I hear the subtext, "Winn, I want your opinion and for you to be a part of this decision."
"Really listening," requires my silence.
So, what does this all mean for the rest of us on America's birthday? I hope it means, we can be brave and listen to those who don't share the same opinions or politics that we do, but that we can also continue to speak up at injustice and fight for the protection of everyone's civil rights (And, I do mean: EVERYONE). Speak up. Listen. Rinse and repeat.
But, being engaged in a conversation is often uncomfortable. Recently, nothing has proved this point more for me than when my sister, Maya, went to a rally in Atlanta on the recent immigration issue. I was scared for her safety, but I knew she wanted to be there and be heard. Maya created a piece of original artwork which came from her heart and showcased her political opinion on the matter. Despite my concerns for my sister's safety, I was proud she had found her voice.
Yet, Maya's bold choice left me silent. Why?!? Fear. Plain and simple. I was afraid, well.. I am afraid of the political climate in our, "land of the free and the home of the brave."
Onstage, we treat each other as, "poets and artists," because we have respect for each other. Unfortunately, I don't see the crossover as much offstage. Offstage, conversations are stopped before they have even begun. Mostly, the root of the conversation is, "no, but" instead of, "yes, and."
For myself, (although I try to be open-minded!) I can tell when I am transitioning from "listening" to "hearing", because my body language changes: arms crossed, face set, no emotion. I am on the defense.
All of my senses are involved when I am truly engaged in listening, but despite my improv training to be a 'good listener' I am just as human and fallible as the next person. Actually, a few days ago a close friend called me out when I was shutting down in the middle of our conversation and I needed to become self-aware. I did manage to course correct and the conversation took on a whole new tone after I brought myself back from the brink.
Which brings me to America's Birthday Wish:
Please have someone read aloud to you the last words Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter in 1826 about the importance of our Independence Day, “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them," and really listen.
Have a purpose.
To see more artwork from my sister, please go to: Maya LaRue.