Today I stayed in a large group and said nothing, until I was compelled to. I met with this group of 30 people and 6 faculty members in a Total Learning Community, which is an unstructured circle in which the conversation flows. I contrast this with my experience of the same group three months ago, when I felt compelled to make meaning of the experience, to comment and be part of the conversation. Today, three months after, I had no such compulsion.
I sat in the group and chose to listen and watch as the conversation occurred. That is such a different perspective for me, to observe to consider, to just watch the thoughts in my head and not put them out into the larger group
Why did I make that choice? Did I betray my self? Did I have anything to say? Sure I did. I always have a theory, an opinion, or a contribution. Today I considered “Does it make sense to contribute when a group is not ready to listen?”
I grew up in a home where I could always speak. My mother encouraged us to read books and at the end of each book we would have a discussion about content, context, the main character and the decisions that were made. It was the same with movies. We watched a movie together and had a discussion about it. Agee or disagree, there was a feeling that I was seen and heard and that my opinions mattered.
I contrast this with my previous interactions with this group and wondered, “Does it matter what I say? Is anyone really interested in what I say and consider it important? Will they take it in and be moved forward by what I say?”
I decided that the answers to these questions will be “No” so I shut up and said nothing. I spent the time observing what was said and by whom, listening to the speakers and checking in with the other people in the circle to see how what was said landed on them. I took my focus off me and instead spent my energies observing the people around me, learning about them as the conversation progressed. I noticed that I felt constriction in my chest when speakers expressed their anxieties, the embarrassment of a joke that fell flat and the frustration of unanswered questions. This was a different experience for me to stay in a non- talking zone and experience the feelings of people around me.
I was not copping out, I was very interested, very aware and present in the room. I changed the way that I interacted and experienced the group in a different way that allowed me to see and hear people in a silent way.
It was an experiment which others may not understand, but I felt that this is what I needed to meet people in a different way and at a different level. This is what I need right now to connect with the other people in the room – to listen, to watch, to understand silently, giving each person the attention they needed as they determined what they wanted from the group.
Today I was a silent servant – giving, not taking, holding the space without judgement and following without expectation. The result – a richer experience for me and a deeper knowledge and understanding of the people around me.
How do you connect with the people around you?