Monday, March 15, 2010


I have laryngitis. I woke up with a scratchy throat Saturday morning and by Saturday evening my voice was well on its way to another dimension. By Sunday morning - gone. In recent years this has happened to me, on average, twice a year. It usually happens about 2 1/2 weeks into each new semester. I know this because in one of my classes I've been outlining class content every semester to see how things change and evolve. So, I have records from the past 5 years that indicate the timeline. (I, of course, blame it all on those coughing, spitting, hacking, germ factories called 'students.') :-) I realize that losing your ability to speak is difficult for most people. But I think it's probably a little more difficult for someone like me.

In case you hadn't noticed, I have a lot of words. I've been told that by many
people - and I have to acknowledge the truth of it, though I don't have as many as some people I've known. I suspect that this has manifested itself in my life in many different ways. For one, I chose to be a teacher. I chose to be a teacher of communication. In those capacities, you're often asked to present, to lecture, to speak. And today I cannot.

Being unable to speak, for someone like me, is difficult. Very difficult. I have a running commentary on life that zips through my head and, often, out my mouth. Luckily, I have developed friendships with people who enjoy talking as well. It's obviously far more fun to talk when you get a response from someone. These relationships give me an outlet for my words, and allow me to learn from others' words at the same time.

One of the topics I teach about in all my classes is 'effective listening.' I'm aware of my listening habits and work hard in my daily life and relationships to be a good listener. Of course, sometimes I'm more successful than others. However, being unable to talk - imposed silence - causes you to listen in a new and different way.

It makes me aware that in regular conversation I am responsive. I am quick to ask a question or to make a comment. I have words to offer. While the response is good, I believe, perhaps the quickness isn't always. I picked up a friend from the airport last evening. Since I had no voice, the conversational burden fell to her. Other than the whispered 'really?' or 'oh?' I wasn't able to offer much. And the silence on my part, caused her to say more than she usually does. And I suspect what she said was different from what she would have said had I been asking questions.

I also found myself listening in a different way. I had questions in my head, yes, but the questions went unasked. And as her story continued, the questions went away. I found myself caught up in trying to place myself where she had been and to take part in her experience. It was interesting to see how the story evolved when it wasn't directed by my questions or comments, when it was motivated by her desire to tell it, and when it was full of the details that she believed were significant.

The experience made me more aware that some people (not this friend, by the way) don't hold up their end of the conversational bargain. They give only the most basic of detail and they want you to work to pull the story out of them. And, when that happens, it isn't my job to pick it up and fill in the blanks with my words, no matter how comfortable that behavior is for me. I can wait. I can be silent. I can let them find their own words.

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