Old school personal development personality Earl Nightingale once told a story about a glass marble. Nightingale related how he had been hogging the conversation with a friend. He eventually noticed the friend was looking over Nightingale’s shoulder seemingly bored. He realized his social error and later purchased a glass marble at a “five and dime” store. Nightingale carried the marble in his pocket and every time he conversed with someone he took the marble out of the pocket. Nightingale would hold the marble in one hand then switch it over to the other.
One day a friend asked Nightingale about the marble. Nightingale told the friend that the marble was a tactile cue that reminded him that conversation is a shared act. That’s why he developed the habit of taking the marble from his pocket and moving it from hand to hand.
I’ve enjoyed that little parable for years, but I’ve never purchased a marble for that purpose. I do try to watch for visual cues from the other person while talking with them. We can discover a lot about life simply by listening to others because other people have different life stories than our own.
My flamboyant friend, Nicky (not his actual name) has a lot to teach. Although he loves to talk and dominate conversations, I don’t mind because he’s fascinating and funny. He grew up in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1996 with his family. The family departed Cuba and ended up in Mexico and finally completed their journey in Texas. Nicky naturalized his citizenship in 1999 and relocated to Nebraska two years later.
I’ve learned a lot about Cuban LGBT culture from Nicky. In the past, the culture was largely underground due to the repressive Fidel Castro dictatorship. Life there was especially difficult for flamboyantly gay people like Nicky. Nicky didn’t feel fully liberated until he became a U.S. citizen in Houston. There he could let his “freak flag fly”. Every time I see him, Nicky has outrageous stories to tell–sometimes about his childhood in Havana.
“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
While people like Nicky are easy to listen to, not everyone has such a colorful, outgoing personality. What about the “average” people who go about their lives in a routine manner. They have things to say about living and coping with everyday problems and sharing their successes, too. Oftentimes, people simply hope that someone else will lend them an ear and hear them out. People feel safer and speak more intimately when they know we are listening intently to them. This is how trust is built and in turn, friendship.
All things considered, people’s stories connect us. There are millions of people who have their own stories to tell. It’s just a matter of us giving them a chance to tell us those stories.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Dutch priest, professor, and theologian, Henri Nouwen. “Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”