Smallness: On Listening and Silence in Public

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When people sit down at the table sometimes I need to do some heavy lifting – which I don’t mind at all. Sometimes some proverbial brush needs to be cleared before a creative approach can be found/discovered/offered.

Sometimes all that is needed is just the barest touch.

C sat down happily brimming at how much she admired my experiment/project. She was more than six feet tall and had a profoundly deep gentleness and kindness that hung around her like perfume. It showed in her posture, her eyes and even in her gap tooth. She explained that she had been thinking about a project that was similar to mine that she wanted to have my feedback on. She explained her very simple concept: a public listener. She wanted to set up a two chairs and a table and a sign that simply read “Public Listener”. Her question was simple:

What does a person like you, doing what you are doing, think of this idea? What would you add?

I got it. I got her.

It was so simple and so beautiful and I telescoped into the future and could see her in place and see her listening to people attracted to some still magnetism that she inhabits (or inhabits her). I just sat quietly while I considered this simple question.

In the pause only one thing arose in my mind and I shared it with C.

The only thing that comes to mind is to allow yourself to be a pure listener. So much so that you don’t speak. You just listen. Get a pad of paper and if someone asks you what you do – you write the response. Simply. After someone says something at the table just write a very simple reply. It would be a meditation of sorts just being silent all day.

C looked at me and soft tears welled up and seeped slowly as she nodded and said

Yes. That is exactly what I need to do. You don’t know but I have dreamed of having a part of my life where I could just be silent. I sing professionally and sometimes I wish I could just shut up.

This was such a simple addition to her already amazing idea. An addition that almost felt like a subtraction but that somehow multiplied the impact – at least in theory. A woman like that with her depth of  presence just listening to you?

So powerful.

So unusual.

C and I talked further about the power of silence but she and I exchanged something simple and so remarkable. I felt so touched by her openness and the strength of her character. We spent maybe 15 intimate minutes together but she paid me $30 and wished that she had more and told me that I “completely fulfilled the promise of my sign and more.”

We hugged goodbye as if we were dear old friends.  Hearts that are exposed resonate to the same music. So look for a “Public Listener” with a tall beautiful woman poised with a pad of paper and the openest of hearts waiting to hold all of you.

If there is something to draw from this interaction besides the simple loveliness of it is that often we look for the big fix, the big idea or the big breakthrough. But often it is small.

We are encouraged to think big and that paradigm has imperiled us economically (and in other ways). E.F. Schumacher implored “Small is Beautiful” in his book of the same name.

Similarly we feel that adding our voices, our clarity, our understanding or our truth is vital. Sometimes it is. But venturing in the opposite direction… sometimes the last word can simply be silence.


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Thank you for sharing this wonderful post! This makes us realize that we really need some time to be silent so we can think things right. This is very inspiring!

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TBK, thanks for your support and kind words! I am grateful to have it from someone like you!

Amy Oscar
Amy Oscar

FIrst of all, I love the idea of your blog - and your table in Union Square. Are you still there? I want to sit with you! Second, I love the tender way that you're reporting these encounters with people whose names are just one letter long but whose faces I can see, whose voices I can hear through your beautiful writing.Well done!

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