This I Believe #5: How To Listen Up

Fifth installment of my unofficial This I Believe series.

Last night, I sat with my three closest DC friends around a table in a bustling restaurant and barely said a word.

Anyone who knows me knows this situation is rare. I LOVE to talk. Poor storytellers annoy me, because I want to jump in and save the tale. Wherever the center of the room or stage or phone call is, I want to be there, gabbing away. I don't do it consciously; it's just who I am.

But last night was different. I didn't have a sore throat or a lot on my mind or unresolved issues. I simply didn't have much to say.

At first, this bothered me. In my mind, talking gets me noticed. As long as I'm noticed, I'm loved. As long as I'm loved, I'm happy. Thus, talking = happy. No talking = illness, fights, loneliness, and the end of the world as I know it.

Yet I said little last night and still enjoyed the evening. I didn't tell stories, but appreciated those my friends shared. Nothing was lacking; in fact, the outing felt richer.

That's when I realized: I hadn't talked not because I had nothing to contribute. I didn't talk because listening was my contribution.

In listening, I was still. In listening, I came to appreciate finer details about the stories and storytellers. In listening, I sat at the periphery of attention -- and was surprised by how comfortable I felt there.

Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot to say. When I'm overjoyed or upset or solving a problem, you'll hear about it. But I see now how to best enjoy the moments between those extremes.

Let others take center stage. Be a willing audience. React with gusto. And listen deep to everyone and everything swirling around you. Because soon enough you'll be back in the fray, and you'll need your strength.