On New Year’s Day, I finally saw the delightful movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as the beloved children’s television star Fred Rogers. I waited until the last day this critically acclaimed film was showing at our local theatre because we wanted to go as an entire family and needed to align multiple schedules in our short window of opportunity over the holidays. Like millions of Americans, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a part of our children’s childhood, and it just seemed right to sit down together to take it in as if watching around the television set.
There is much to like about this film, from the cast to the skillful direction of Marielle Heller, from the smart screenplay to the transitional shifts taking place between the toy set and the real life scenes of Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel (played expertly by Matthew Rhys). Vogel is, as one reviewer notes, “a magazine writer who actually may be the one person on the planet who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers.” Rhys’ character is based on real-life journalist Tom Junod, who wrote a profile of Rogers for Esquire in 1998. If you saw the film and are at all cynical about the use of some of the scenes (such as with the children on the subway), I recommend you read the original piece, to see how much it impacts the story and script.
As we came home from the showing and sat around the dining room table over a late lunch, all agreed that we were especially taken by the pauses in Fred Rogers’ style. The most famous, of course, is the scene in the Chinese restaurant, which was based upon a real life example from Rogers’ acceptance speech upon receiving a lifetime achievement award at the 1997 Emmys. Beyond that particular instance, however, we all commented on the thoughtful—and sometimes awkward—pauses that Rogers used in everyday conversation. He would ask a question and then stop. And wait. And let you think. And then wait some more.
It just so happened that I had recently completed my New Year’s Day post, and was reminded of my Life Rule #3: Listen more than you talk. In our luncheon conversation, we discussed listening and talking as well as the value of space between the two. Our daughter mentioned that in therapy circles, there is an acronym that has proven helpful to her in thinking about when to talk and when to listen.
The acronym is W.A.I.T. It stands for: Why Am I Talking?
Why am I talking indeed? That’s a great question for therapists to ask themselves when in conversation with clients and those they are trying to help. I use to remind fundraisers who worked with me that they should stop talking after making an ask for support, and let the potential donor think and talk it through. While talking is a critical part of communication, when I find myself going on too much, it is often because I am uncomfortable or want to fill up awkward spaces. I’ve also talked when I shouldn’t because I think I may be protecting the other person in the conversation. I know someone who talks a great deal because he is hurt and is missing the regular support of someone to step in and ask questions to help him work through his pain. There are so many reasons we talk without thinking. There are many good reasons to stop and listen. Listening is, after all, an act of love.
How we talk and how we listen are both important. The next time you find yourself dominating a conversation, think about Mr. Rogers and then stop to ask yourself the question behind the acronym: W.A.I.T.
Have a good week.
More to come…
Installment #20 of The Gap Year Chronicles