Because I’m crazy. That’s why. If you read the speech text from the most recent version of my ‘Create the Space’ speech you’ll see its draft number 54. While I’m a little crazy, there’s a bigger reason why I wrote this speech. I wrote about the importance of choosing the right topic in this first post of my ‘How to Create the Best-Speech-of-Your-Life’ series. I only invest this much time in speech ideas that touch my heart in a pounding sledgehammer kind of way. If you haven’t seen my ‘Create the Space’ speech yet, stop reading and watch it. It’s more entertaining than this blog, lasts seven minutes, and you’ll learn much more from what follows by watching then reading.
Personality Trait Juxtaposition
Creating space for people, listening longer, learning more, loving better are both easy and hard for me. Easy because I’m patient, kind, and egoless with good role models. Plus, as the image below shows, empathy is in my genes. Creating space is hard because I’m selfish, egotistical, and always right. Except when I’m wrong.
How can you be egoless and egotistical? Skill maybe, but it’s more common than you might think. We use our personality adjectives like a binary switch. You’re either kind or mean, selfish or unselfish, patient or impatient. Life ain’t so simple I’ve learned. Our behaviors and attributes exist on a spectrum much longer than the integers from zero to one. Maybe more like zero to ten like the image below shows. Or today I’m a ten on egoless. And tomorrow I’m a zero.
Shallow vs Deep Listening
If you read the text of the first draft of this speech, you might notice more themes than the final version. We talk so much and listen so little. We posture and prod, argue and flap our wings, pretend like we’re listening while we’re preparing our response. I do it too. It’s hard to stop. We want to be right, convince people of our position, feel that ego hit from converting someone. To me, this is shallow listening. I’m learning life is just as fun when you’re converted. Learning something new feels great. It requires listening deeper with the intent to understand — quieting your mind to value another person and their ideas.
Value Opposing Views
And then there’s this.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.– Aristotle (attributed but the real text is much, much denser)
In my mind I reframe this quote as.
A good mind can value two competing thoughts.– Matt Dever (via Aristotle or whoever made his dense text marketable)
So every time I see people arguing or find myself in the middle of one or about to enter one, I challenge myself to remember this quote and act accordingly. My reward is a stronger mind. If I dive deep into an argument without listening, it feels good but I learn nothing. I waste my breath. I don’t always get it right but my frequency of listening well is going up. If you want to listen better, see this post.
Every day I notice people going through the motions.
- “Hay, how ya doin??”
- “Good, you?”
- “Great. Have a nice day.”
Sometimes I’ll see a person wanting to say a little bit more, but the other person isn’t there. We live on auto-pilot. Nothing wrong with that, it’s natural. But once in a while, it’s amazing to see what happens when you look someone in the eye and smile or say, “Tell me more.” Like a jailbreak, remarkable moments are available to us when we step outside the comfort of our safe places, our routines, and (sometimes) our prison cells.
Good Role Models
My mom listened a lot. The best evidence I have of that is the line out-the-door and around the block at her funeral. She was always on the phone, speaking with a friend, walking and talking down the street, or doing something for someone. Then she’d pass out on the couch at midnight reading a book for herself. She put herself last.
She wasn’t always perfect. No one is. But wow…she came close.
Did she always listen deeply? No. No one does.
Did she always make time for you? Yes. That’s what mothers do, but there are levels. In the video game of life, she beat the final boss every time by listening to his problems until he feels so well understood that he becomes a good guy.
The story that was cut from the ‘Create the Space’ speech is: My Mom and a Homeless Man.
My Mom and a Homeless Man
My mom took me and my sister into her office at 18th and Chestnut in Philly every year. This is the interaction I remember between her and several homeless men over the years.Mom: “How’s your day going sir?”
Homeless Man: “Okay it was a cold night mam.”
Mom: “Would you like to get some hot chocolate and a sandwich?”
Homeless Man: “Yes – I think I’d love that.”
My memory is faulty so I’m sure it didn’t happen exactly like that, but you get the point. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but she always brought a sandwich for a homeless man or had a conversation with him or performed some other small kindness. This is what I saw growing up. Lucky me.