Slow to Speak
Living in another culture always gives you moments where you learn about yourself or you grow in a way that has been difficult in your home context. Every time I have moved to a new culture (Colombia, Scotland, Middle Tennessee), I have found that there are aspects of my personality that change. The one aspect that regularly gets morphed is a slowness in responding to people.
Growing up I always found it difficult to control my tongue. Someone would say something or ask a question, and I immediately had an answer. This got me in a lot of trouble. When I moved to Colombia, I found that I was forced to slow down just because Spanish was my second language. I would think about what I wanted to say. I would consider every word. Then, after I had done that I would decide if it was important enough to respond. Moving to Middle Tennessee was a completely different experience. I thought I spoke the language, but quickly found out I didn't and I needed to consider what people had said carefully. When I came to Scotland, it was a whole new world. In a conversation, I know we are both speaking English, but often I am unsure that this is in fact the case. All of these moves have caused me to slow down, to listen, to carefully consider my own words.
One of the more interesting things about moving to Scotland is that it isn't just the accent that slows me down, my work has slowed my tongue as well. One of the fundamental points that my supervisor has pounded into my brain and my writing is that the goal is to make one point and make it clearly. It is really tempting when speaking or writing to think that we can solve every problem in a few thousand words. We have all seen this in blogs. The author starts out talking about organic farming and by the end of the blog, there is an argument for why there needs to be a viable third party on the American political scene.
Learning to be slow to speak, learning to carefully nuance our language is hard. It requires us to admit perhaps we don't understand everything that is being argued, perhaps we may not have all the answers (man, I want to have all the answers). Yet, I wonder what our conversations would be like if we learned to heed the words of James:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. - James 1:19
Part of the reason why I have learned time and again to slow down in my speaking, is because I have been forced to learn (and even now I continue to learn) how to listen, and how to hear what others are saying. There are many times when my tongue gets me in trouble (either agreeing to do something without knowing what was just said or responding without really thinking through what I am saying). Yet, learning how to slow down my speech, learning how to control myself from posting or responding to a post on social media, learning how to nuance my own speech or listening for the nuance in someone else's speech, has opened doors and paid dividends over the long haul. I have found listening allows me to hear what is actually being said, and often what is actually being said isn't what is being said (or what I think is being said).
It has not been easy and I am still learning, but this PhD has been helpful in this. It reminds me time again to listen and then respond slowly.