The Gift of Silence

“It’s okay to just sit there and wait for it.”

My acting friend had brought us all together to practice improv again. We haven’t been able to get together because of the pandemic.

Quarantine was not what we wanted. We had been getting a groove together as we worked through improv scenes. But that was a long time ago.

I was so glad when Jenn reached out to to ask if I would be willing to come work some scenes outside. We could stay distanced and be safe and everything. But we are artists and it was high time to get some practice.

When the going gets tough, artists make art.

We warmed up and marked out the borders of the stage so we could practice proper stagecraft. We did a few small scenes and were reminding each other how we had been taught.

Say one short sentence.  Let it sit.

Then the response.

Wait.

The story will unfold naturally.

In improv, it’s all about relationships. Just like life.

Time and silence helps conversations with people. When I speak, I can give it time to sink in. Then wait to hear the response.

That gives so much depth to the conversation. It shows a lot of confidence to let the silence ride. Leaving that much space is generous to others, allowing them to use the space.

It is not so common. Many people find silence in conversation deeply unsettling and jump forward to fill it.

Amazing things can be revealed in that silence.

The truth can bubble up when it has the space. Silence lets a situation breathe.

I know my first response is not always an accurate reflection of my true feelings. When I give someone else time to speak, that allows them to rethink and say what they really mean.

It is a gift.

Stay In

The consultant was not happy with me. He’s been working and creating all the systems we need at my new job. I just got there, and I was telling him to do it different.

I’d only just got there. He’d been keeping it together for months. So, when I sent a message relaying the new requirements I’d been given, he had a terse answer.

I had to call him to understand what he meant. When we were actually talking not just typing, the frustration came out. We had to hash it out.

Some things were said. Some things needed to be heard.

And we got there. I told him, “Please understand, I appreciate that you told me how you see this. I have learned, as long as we keep talking, we are still working towards a solution.”

To take a line from Oprah, this is something I know for sure.

My only hope to hang on to rescue is to stay in the conversation.

Hang on like I’m hanging on to a floating plank after a shipwreck.

I know I’m going to need all the help I can get to make it through this storm of life. If I’m in it with other people, we have to keep talking. I don’t’ know what hurts you if I don’t hear you say ‘ouch.’ I won’t know what is important to you if you don’t tell me.

That conversation means I have to say it. And I have to listen for it.

We have to be in it and stay in it.

Because our minds are so very creative, we can come up with a hundred ways to interpret what we hear. We have to let each other know if we’ve getting hot or ice cold on the interpretations.

Also, there has to be room to change course when things change. Lots of blocks can come in that require a new plan. That takes even more discussion and decision.

Me and my consultant had a tense conversation, but we stayed in it and got through. I feel confident that we built trust with one another that will help in future disagreements.

Our working relationship is stronger.

Conversations with family work the same way. It may be uncomfortable to share how things make me feel, but if I want to grow trust I have to stay in the conversation. Anything less is abandoning the people I love.

Pulling a mask over my feelings, stifling my voice means we are not in the game anymore.

I want to be heard. I want to hear you. I’m going to stay.

Diversity and Extremism

When I started working from home, I knew I would like not commuting. I did not expect how much I would enjoy not being around people.

I do like talking with people, but I don’t want to spend time talking about things I am not interested in. I don’t enjoy getting caught in a long conversation about a TV show I’m not interested in or a movie I am never going to watch.

Clearly that other person is into it, but I’d rather be left to think my own thoughts. I worked from home for more than two years, and I really enjoyed NOT being around people.

I read my own books, and thought my own thoughts and was perfectly happy. I chose a few social interactive events in the week, and kept to myself.

When the stay-at-home orders happened in March, I felt very ready to comply. I checked all my social media outlets, made sure my library cards were set up. I figured it was no different than how I had already been living

It was not the same.

The things I had previously relied on to give me my personalized balanced diet of other activities were stopped. That upset the balance. I remember back in April I went to store for the first time. I was overcome by the site of everyone’s faces—even though they were covered in masks—I cried to have someone tell me to have a nice day.

We’ve been separate from one another. I have not breathed the air of people around me.

For America, this has not been entirely a restful time of contemplation and togetherness. Almost immediately people gathered to protest things. There have been continuing protests somewhere in America this whole time.

I just finished a book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop. He wrote it back in 2007 to explore a trend that has been going on for decades, or longer.

Diversity is a good thing. It’s also an uncomfortable thing.  I might enjoy spending time with people who have read all the same books as I have, who like the same restaurants and music. But it would last long. I would get bored. It would stink like a stagnant pond.

I need other people’s perspectives and ideas. I have to remember they are real perspectives not just concepts. It is dangerous to dehumanize other people.

Bishop writes “Beginning in the 1960s…social psychologists have found that like-minded groups not only enforced conformity but also tended to grow more extreme.”

For example, if a group decides the are dog people, members of the group will one-up each other by expressing more and more dislike of cats. They would end with some very extreme suggestions, like outlawing cats.

I want to avoid those extremes. My best life includes diverse, even clashing viewpoints. And the dogs and the cats need room to co-exist.

Martin Luther King Jr., whom we celebrated this week, said this:

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

I know I have both in me, Dr. King. I am trying to lean towards the good, and bring others along with me.