Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sound and Conversation: Two Ears, One Mouth

            Snap. Crackle. Pop.
            Snorkeling in a coral reef sounds a lot like pouring milk over a morning bowl of Rice Krispies. I never would have realized that if I hadn’t stopped to listen. And now I find myself listening to everything: the whoosh of the wind, the creak of the sails, the whirring of the 16th Street cabin fan, the clatter of the anchor, the splash of the bow, the half hourly chime of the clock. And those are only the sounds of the ship. Palmyra was rife with the sound of birds, Fanning of children, and as we sit anchored and waiting for clearance, I look forward to listening to the sounds of Kiritimati.

In focusing on the sounds of my environment, I find I’m a better listener in conversation too. Where I once constantly felt the need to one-up others, to tell the better story, to fill the silence – never quite listening to those around me, but always thinking of what to say next – I’ve taken on a more observant role. Rather than asking someone how they’re doing out of social due diligence, I find myself actually interested in the answer. Rather than inputting the sound of my own voice, a sound I am already much acquainted with, I gravitate towards the voices of others.

In listening, I’m learning a lot from my shipmates. I’m learning about their personalities and individual histories; I’m learning about their opinions and leadership approaches. In turn, I’m more aware of the ship’s community dynamic and emotional atmosphere.

Alexis and Don the engineer enjoying a conversation at sunrise

Of course, life aboard the Robert C. Seamans is a little different than the life many of us lead ashore. We don’t have midterms to study for or bike traffic to navigate. We don’t have appointments to schedule or office hours to attend. That’s not to say that life aboard the ship isn’t stressful at times, but our situation does allow us to be more in tune with the natural world around us.

So I ask, how often do you stop and listen? How often do you listen and really pay attention to those around you, to the world around you? While not all of us have the opportunity to sail for five weeks on a tall ship, all of us have access to nature. So take a step outside, close your mouth, and open your ears. There’s a whole world of sound out there if only you stop and listen.


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