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Our societies stress superlatives and give the lion’s share of their attention to all of the best, the brightest and often the loudest. But what about the rest of us?
Not everybody can excel or demonstrate to the world their most fantastic talent, creativity, or artistic genius. Most of us have gifts and qualities, but they don’t jump out and grab you, nor do they get described in newspapers or on the web. Many people are not interested in blowing their own horn to draw attention to themselves, and yet, from time to time, we all have beautiful qualities, stunning thoughts and ideas, and even poetic ways of living that go largely unnoticed in our busy, rapidly-moving and cacophonous world.
I think of these people as “the rest of us.” Our gifts and talents aren’t often recognized, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them! Each person is unique in different ways. That difference makes life interesting, but we all need to look carefully into each other and notice these unique qualities.
We can only do that by listening, and we can only listen in silence.
In this fast-paced, me-oriented world a lot of us don’t get all the encouragement we need. People, too busy with their own concerns, rarely look deeply into the lives of their associates, their colleagues, the people they see everyday, those people we hesitate to call “friends.” We’re so involved with making a living or working for some sought-after goal that our busy, busy lives prevent us from connecting with each other.
I find it very sad that it is so hard to connect hearts in this world we live in today.
Many people do not have strong family ties or great family relationships, or friends who are healthy enough to reach out or who care enough to go out of their way to give encouragement. We all need support and encouragement to face the world and the many crises that happen to us on a daily basis in these turbulent times.
Some years ago one of my bosses told me that I did not listen. I was really struck by his remark, and I made it a goal of mine to pay more attention and to really listen, to try harder to truly hear people. I found that most people don’t want you to tell them the answer to their problems, and lots of times people just want someone to talk to, someone to hear them, to feel what they feel and really be with them.
I’ve always been impressed with traditional, native American cultures. In many of those cultures people do not speak until they have considered what has been said. When they do speak, they don’t say too much, but their words have considerable meaning.
It’s maddening to be in a rapid-fire conversation when you know that your points are not really being considered. Sometimes we want so much for people to listen to what we have to say that we don’t really listen to what’s being said to us.
The Baha'i teachings ask us to refrain from excessive speech and listen carefully to others:
He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. - Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 264.
Baha’u’llah says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak and meditate. - Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 174.
People today often have a hard time dealing with silence or pauses in conversation. If there is silence for more than a few seconds, people can become very uncomfortable and feel they have to say something—anything—to fill the void. It’s a serious problem that we don’t take more time to listen, and to carefully meditate on and consider what has been said before we blurt out some answer that may or may not be responsive or relevant. Good negotiators have taken note of this, and often use silence as a tactic. Our societies would do well to listen more deeply, contemplate what’s being said and pause to think before speaking.
If we really look into the hearts of people and see their uniqueness and their beauty, perhaps our ability to listen, to be loving and generous of spirit, will increase. From that we will start to appreciate how fantastic, how superlative and how remarkable each person is in their own way:
If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men. - Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 29-30.