Thinking about the topic for #ccourses and for me language gets in the way. People say… if we do this for them… and language is so loaded and sets so many implied divisions, even when they are certainly not intended. For me when I divisions are unfurrled, that is when I have learned respect and understanding.
Words and Listening
I am reminded of leaving America to come live in England. Even though I thought we spoke the same language, there was so much I didn’t understand. Culture, history, different values, meanings, and traditions. It was a powerful lesson for me to learn that there was a universe of understanding that I did not yet have. I’ll tell the story…
When I moved down to the South Coast of England after my postgrad in London, I used to enjoy going to my friend’s grandfather’s house a couple of villages away to talk over a glass of sherry – it broke up the day’s cello practice, and he was a lovely gentleman. We would sit at his old pine table in the smallish and typical English kitchen, with teapots, mugs, a little black stove, and a small pantry cupboard, and he would pour sherry and have plate of peanuts or ‘bombay mix’ (nuts and pretzels and little crackers). The day that I remember so well he was telling me about having to leave for the war- and the sirens were going and he was in the Piccadilly office and he described going down the stairs and the secretary rushing down the corridor and having to leave everything and shutting the door and the telephone was still ringing, but they had to go- left it all just like that. I listened, very naturally, nodding – adding ‘uh-huh’ and ‘yeah’ and at some point he slammed his hand on the table and said,
‘Will you stop?! Why are you doing that – nodding and carrying on like you were there. You have no way of knowing what I am going to say or of understanding what it was like. Sit and listen, but don’t pretend to know.’
This was in May of 1997. I remember the floral dress I was wearing (good for playing cello), I remember breaking out in a sweat and in red blotchy patches on my face and neck, and I remember the silence that followed while he looked into me.
I then said – sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. and I tried very hard not to cry.
The tension broke with a sip or sherry. My friend’s grandfather went on to say-
‘you need to learn to listen.’
‘There is more to a conversation. Listen to what is being said and then you might have a comment.’
I found it very difficult to sit still and almost stifling not to fill the space between his words with ‘noise’ (which I think is an American thing to do). Over many sherry time visits, and garden visits, and lunches I learned to appreciate listening and really had valuable conversation lessons. I was made aware that in general I didn’t know how to actually hold a conversation that involved listening and not automated responses.
So, his overall advice involved eliminating the pre-emptive nodding or gestures and the instant agreement and alignment with stories. From then on it was more interactive- I would ask questions and for a while he would reaffirm that it was ok to ask, and he would explain… I got so many stories- and began to gain a sense of history that I had never known in America – not because I hadn’t learned, but because I wasn’t there; I hadn’t lived his story.
I like to think that music somehow is beyond words. It can communicate with one or many, and each will make unique connections and attribute different meaning to what is heard. Even if I tell you what to hear, it is your experience and will resonate with you, your history, mood, disposition – all differently to mine. We are different and there is joy in that diversity. For this I’ll give you a song, not a story. This piece was written for me – and it is all about resonances. I hope something in it resonates with you.
Resonance for solo cello. composed by Jill Jarman, performed by Laura Ritchie
I tweeted about my friend who teaches at Peabody – and he did something awesome. Decided to teach about equity and diversity by living it. -and all because he crashed his car… If you ever get to meet this guy, Andrew is the best.
*I had typed the whole post and lost it *blip* on the computer… so retyped it a bit quickly! More thoughts for another time- Laura
Love the story Laura and especially loved the “negotiated on the fly” ( it being difficult and not the easy option ) comment by your friend Andrew. I’m going to let that percolate. Thank you.