Reader comment on Jacob Needleman's passage ...

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    On Apr 9, 2011 KT wrote:

    Human-kind has more ways to communicate with one another than one could have ever imagined, and while It is probably true that people are communicating MORE due to technology, the communication is LESS due to the quality. You see it every day. 

    As an English teacher my job is to teach students how to communicate through speech and writing. What I have found is that I often spend the most time on teaching them the art of "tone." They have no idea how their choice of words combined with their tone of voice, body language, and facial expression can impact their experience with another person. They don't really know how to connect to their listener and understand that this connection and the tone of that moment is what will make the conversation either continue or end. I think that this "tone" is the presence described above. Since I teach troubled teens in an urban setting filled with gang violence, drug abuse, and absent parents (either physically, mentally, or emotionally) it is very hard to teach proper communication (often times even harder for me to simply communicate with them!). They often  have not had people in their lives give them the type of gentle and genuine attention described above. It seems that they are even afraid of it. They are afraid to trust; they are afraid that this attention comes with strings attached. It is very sad. I realize that the more time I spend communicating with them in a certain way, the more they respond. For these kids it is not effective or practical to spend a lot of time on sentence structure, vocabulary, and grammar. Instead, they need to just practice speaking. Pick a topic and just them just go for it. I listen and when appropriate I put in comments and thoughts, but I try to just focus on them and allow them this space. It is very hard at times. What I have found is that the more time I spend with a student listening and being present, the more that she wants to talk, and the better her communication skills become. The girl who used terribly foul language and yelled and flung her hands violently starts to sit still and make eye contact and wonder aloud. She begins to understand how to give genuine attention to her listener due to the fact that he is being still and attentive, giving her the gift of his own presence. It's as if she knows she can be calm and be vulnerable enough to take her time and think and examine because she feels safe. It's as she learns how to speak with purpose and presence because she has learned what it feels like to be heard with presence. It's a beautiful thing. Even though we should never try to feed the ego (that ravenous beast!), I recognize how crucial it is for people to feel important, to feel loved and accepted. I think that when we are present like Lobsang was with the child that we are showing the person that we are communicating with that they are important and, therefore, they are loved. 

    Be present while speaking. Be present while listening. It's like holding hands when it words out right. :-)


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