I was recently in a workshop where I had the opportunity to work with several fathers who wanted to improve their relationships with their young adult children. They all expressed a desire to better communicate with their kids. One lamented that he felt he needed to prepare his conversations with his son, who was going through a difficult time. Another felt that if he could only be more articulate, he could get through to his daughter, and a third expressed remorse that he was not able to provide wise, insightful advice to his sons as they embarked on their life after high school.
Do you notice a trend here? They all felt a deep need to engage with their kids, connect on a more intimate level, and they assumed that talking to them was the answer, and because they felt they weren't very good at communicating with them, it left them at a disadvantage to connect. This made me sad. And I told them a story about connecting with my own father, outside of the need to talk.
I remembered a time several years ago when I knew that something had transformed in my relationship with my father. As an English professor, my father has no problem articulating himself. The oldest of four children, he grew up in the projects in Newark, where he learned to defend himself, and words can be a powerful weapon in his mouth. I rarely went up against him in my childhood. But I did often feel the need to prove to him that I was a good girl, that I was successful and that I was doing things in life that he could be proud of.
We were on a family vacation. My father and I decided to take a walk and ended up sitting on a bench in Monterrey overlooking the ocean. As we sat there, I thought about what I should say; something to share that he would be proud of, some accomplishment or discovery or maybe even a question that he could answer. As I rooted through my brain for anything to break the silence, I realized I had no desire to speak. He also remained silent.
Despite the fact that no words were exchanged, it was a moment when I felt most connected to my father. I felt completely free from needing to BE anything or PROVE anything to him. It was liberating. We sat like that, side by side, looking out at the ocean, for what seemed an eternity. And yet it was probably no more than ten minutes before we got up and continued along the path.
We are so focused on words in our talk talk talk culture, we often overlook the precious gift of silence; the simple act of connecting without words. We break the tender silence of a hug with a pat on the back, or a joke. We fill empty spaces with banter and chit chat. We think about what we are going to say while others are talking and we half-listen to their response as we glance at our Blackberries and I-phones. We deny ourselves the precious gift of silence.
A few years ago I went on a solo camping experience, in the woods. I was terrified of facing the silence. I worried that I would go crazy with no one to talk to. What I discovered is that silence is incredibly hard to come by in this world. Do you know how loud birds and squirrels and bugs are? Not to mention the din going on in my own head!
But by day three, I dropped into a whole new place inside myself. The volume got a little lower, the conversation in my head was less heated, and my inner agitation stopped. I walked out of those woods a changed woman, and overcame my greatest fear -- to be alone without a soul to talk to, for three whole days. Again, I felt liberated.
So next time you want to connect with someone, or yourself, consider the Silence option. Contemplate this for a day: Instead of non-violent communication, why don't we experiment non-verbal communication? Try it, and let me know how it goes!