Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finding Down Time - An Exercise in Listening

I have to admit blogging this week is hard.  As Thanksgiving looms and the shopping season is gearing up to take off, my mind is elsewhere.  I have a list of personal things to get done, I have an even longer list of business things to get done, and somewhere in there I need to find time to clean my house, prepare for the holidays and find some down time. 

Have you ever noticed we live in a society which does not look kindly on down time?  An occasional vacation is great, as long as it is short and doesn't happen too often.  If you spend too much time relaxing or being non-productive you are considered to be a slouch or a freeloader.  Heaven forbid you be called the "L" word, as being lazy is a sin.

You might note a little sarcasm in my tone, and rightly so.  It is amazing to me the importance we put on checking items off our to do list.  I am no exception, but I find the practice a little disturbing.  Other countries expect their citizens to vacation and de-stress.  In the US we are impressed by workers who never take a day off.  hmmm

I was watching a PBS special years ago about a family who went to live in a village in Africa.  I don't remember exactly where they were, but it was remote and had no contact with modern conveniences.  The family had a daughter and son who were used to electronics and fast paced living.  Slowing their lives down was a bit of a challenge.

The family they lived with in the village had a father who was a quiet man.  Every day he would take long walks looking for firewood.  He started taking the son of the American family with him.  They would be gone for an hour or so at a time.  As an audience we started to see this boy open up.  He stopped complaining about all the things he was missing and started helping out around the village.  His parents were stunned and asked the village father what he was doing on those long walks.

The interesting part was he wasn't doing much in an active sense.  He didn't coach the boy on better manners or polite and respectful behavior.  He simply would ask a few questions and listen.  He listened to his hopes and fears, his worries and anxieties.  He would ask thoughtful questions about situations the boy was facing and offer insights from his life.  More often than not he would just be silent and listen to the wind.

The American parents weren't sure how to make this work for them, so the African father took them on walks and taught the American dad what it was like to listen.  Eventually both dads would take the son on walks and the son began to open up to his own father.

I remember the African dad commenting about listening and how it is the most important thing you can do for your child.  He made reference to the fact that you can't listen when you are doing.  In order to learn to love your children and for them to learn to love you there must be quiet.

I was inspired by the kind and soft words spoken by this humble man.  His point was heartfelt.

When the American family returned to their home in the US they vowed to remember the lessons learned, however in a few short weeks they were too busy to follow through.

How do we take the time we need to forge relationships?  How do we eek out time to learn to love and how do we prioritize the quiet time our minds so desperately need?  How do we reconcile the need to complete our to do list with our need for human connection?

The silly thing is this: The media reports on the lack of community and the rising crime rate all the time.  They also mention the increase in productivity.  Is there a link between the shift in values?  The more we spend time accomplishing things and the less time we spend building relationships the weaker our communities become.

As we get closer to this Thanksgiving holiday I will try to remember to slow down.  It won't happen in a day, or even a week.  It may take me a lifetime to get it right.  But I believe the African father has it right.  I need to learn to be still and listen.  I need to listen to my family, my community and most importantly, myself.  If I can pull that off I may just be able to find some down time.

No comments:

Post a Comment