I had other plans last night than listening to the live debate of the Democratic candidates for President. I went outside to move my car and heard two minutes of the live debate as closing statements began. Protesters shut down one of the candidates for several minutes while they chanted against him. I suppose the protesters were cleared and time was restored. Free speech doesn’t mean you get to shout down someone who has the floor.
If there is any behavior that will send me looking for another radio station, it is a host who talks over the top of his guest. Or a guest who dominates the microphone when more than one person is trying to speak. We have become a nation of impatience where the fashionable thing to do is silence an opponent rather than listen.
As fathers, we can do something about correcting this injustice.
When our children misbehave and we feel compelled to correct their mistakes, are we threatened by their excuses and protests? Do we feel obligated to interrupt to set the record straight? Allowing the consequence will be completely adequate for correcting them; must we reduce them to tears in order to get our way? It may be easier to stand over someone half your size and dominate them by interrupting them, but it isn’t fatherly or respectful or effective in winning their hearts.
Parenting doesn’t require dominance. As children grow older, they should become more and more comfortable in their own skin, especially in the presence of a loving parent who is rooting for them and training them to speak confidently for themselves.
The first thing we can change is our own habit of thinking about what we will say while the other person is speaking. We all do it. We hear the first few words and begin thinking of arguments against. It is true that our brains can think much faster than our mouths can speak. There may be some room in the brain to process the other person’s words while thinking of our own. But is that the best demonstration of respect?
The second thing we can change is our tendency to use disgust as our go-to reaction to someone who is different from ourselves. There are other reactions. Humor, understanding, respect and general politeness fare much better in getting a real discussion underway. Interruptions only excite everyone and ratchet up the competition for time in the spoken word sphere. We can turn the temperature up or bring it down with the emotion of our reactions.
I couldn’t help but notice the many laptops open in the audience during Apple’s Keynote this past week. Participants wanted to be in the room where announcements were made about products soon to be released but they couldn’t put their day’s work or their social media down long enough to listen. The picture for this blog is my screen shot during the presentation. We are a culture that prides itself in taking in multiple inputs while we listen.
It’s time for a return to the days when a friend sat next to a friend to listen like no one else existed in the whole world. It’s called undivided attention. Our children deserve to be shown this precious gift. They need fathers who are courageous enough to demonstrate it.