Shutting Up: Learning to Listen and Love Silence
You learn a lot as you age. Priorities shift, things change, and you become better at a being a person. Your focus shifts from being popular and having tons of friends to taking care of yourself and building some sort of life. Things change in that you may see people less, or you may choose to see less of certain people no longer compatible with the life you want to lead. Or at least, I hope this happens/happened for you. But the most important change as you age from your late-teens through your 20’s and arrive at 30 is that you learn how to be a person, and you learn to shut up.
Teenagers are monsters, period. They’re going through a lot, their hormones are raging, their priorities are a mess, their emotions are out of control, and they’re trying to find an identity that suits them. That’s all part of growing up. But alas, one doesn’t reach 20 and suddenly act like a real person, most don’t at least. There are some really grounded people who hit 20 and they’re decent people by then — that’s the best, and I’m drawn to those people, but I wasn’t one of them.
I feel as though I spent my 20’s the way most people spend their 20’s: talking over people, never listening, thinking I knew everything, and drinking too much. I talked, but didn’t always listen. I was merely waiting until it was my turn to blab. A person would get halfway through a sentence, and I would interrupt as though to preempt their final thought before they got there. This was rude, annoying, and often crass.
I wasn’t listening. I would start babbling after someone finished talking, only to realize that my opinion was redundant, irrelevant, and/or unwarranted. I spent the whole time they were talking thinking about what I’d say, but didn’t take in what they said. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed, I made the conscious decision to talk less, and listen more. I would be less the focus of attention, and more the observer. In doing so, I found that I was a better person to be around. Not only that, but I was more in-tune with others and less self-absorbed. I’m a writer, so I’m self-absorbed as a job, but I found that in talking less, I learned a great deal more.
This was only one aspect of becoming a real person. When I listened more and talked less, I found that I became more comfortable with silence. Why do we talk so much? Why do we feel the need to fill the silence with words? We’re social beings, but we needn’t incessantly blather on to fill the space. Consider your own life, do you talk to fill silence? Why? Why is silence so uncomfortable? It shouldn’t be, and in fact, it isn’t. Silence is merely the absence of noise. Those moments, those lulls in conversation or action, those moments are as important as the things being said, if not more important. There’s honesty and emotion in silence, and a great deal to be learned.
The less I talked, the more I listened. The more I listened, the more I understood. The more I understood, the better I was able to read people. The better I was able to read people, the better I was at making a real connection. I’m not saying that talking is bad. When I’m comfortable, I still talk too much. But when we’re young, we’re full of randomly-firing ideas. We’re overconfident, and we pontificate endlessly. We attempt to cement an identity for ourselves by declaring who we are, but that isn’t us. We’re just trying on costumes. It’s when you shut up, take stock, and listen, that’s when you find who you are. When you don’t need to be the center of attention, or have the last word, that’s when you become a better person. Everyone needn’t hear your every thought. And your constant chiming in doesn’t necessarily do what you think it does. No one likes a know-it-all. You don’t need to have the answer to every question, right or wrong. Learning to love silence, that’s where the growth happens. That’s when you shed your costume, and become a real person.