As a child, I simply preferred to talk. My brother would sit for hours quietly reading while I’d work on making a lot of noise. Apparently, I have always felt I had a lot to say. Many people have noticed this; my 7th grade pre-algebra teacher nicknamed me, “Mouth.” And in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota circa 1979, my parents recall (and retell the story of) a camping trip where everyone was so tired of talking with me they shooed me away. When I gave up vying for their attention, I stomped off alone and within minutes, I struck up a conversation with a group of ants.
With ample practice, I’ve become a good talker. But all this talking doesn’t have to detract from listening. In my job seeing patients I think about listening every day. Like most doctors, when I’m running behind or distracted by a sick patient, I have to coach myself to decelerate and take the time to listen. I have been so incredibly humbled and quieted by my surroundings in medicine and the people with whom I work. And as I get older (and hopefully better at this), the more medicine I know, the less I have had to say. I learn so much more by shutting my mouth and listening. It seems in medicine, that is when communication often commences.
In the exam room, sitting down often helps me find more space to listen. A report this week mentioned how much better patients feel (and often perceive they are understood) when their doctor sits down during the visit. I feel better, too.
I must say, I don’t think talking a lot or reading less necessarily detracts from learning to listen. When I was growing up, I remember feeling bad about my disinterest in reading, learning from others it was a failure on some level. Somehow it seemed to others that my loud-ever-talking-sharing-self was never going to acquire what I needed. But I did.
So when I look at my boys now, I work to re-frame what their reading & talking and their sitting & listening mean. Projected against each other, one of these little boys may look deficient. But I’m learning more and more they are simply learning to do this differently.
So there is hope in our home for one very interested reader. And hope for one little ant-talker. But I believe what is more likely is that these two boys will find themselves proficient at both. We can all learn to read and talk, sit and listen. In our own time. Please, pull up that chair…