Have you ever thought about the power of whispering, about all the urgency and intimacy that it contains?
I had rarely thought about it before I attended a workshop called ‘Whispered Words’ at last month’s FRIENDS conference.
A group of stutterers, parents of children who stuttered and speech therapists were invited to sit in a large circle. Every other person in the circle was told to stand behind their seat. We were asked to think of one thing we wanted to improve in ourselves. Pens and paper were handed out and those standing were told to write, “I give you…” followed by the piece of themselves that they wanted to improve.
Those who were left seated were asked to close their eyes and those standing were directed to walk behind the circle of chairs, whispering in each seated person’s ear the words of the sentence they had written.
It started off tentatively, all shuffled feet and awkward scribbles.
Then, slowly, the self-conscious hush gave way to the muffled sound of whispers moving around the room.
The hesitant thrill of the first words in my ear surprised me, a man’s voice whispering, “I give you the courage to chase all your crazy dreams.”
Then a woman’s voice told me, “I give you permission to tell your story”.
At first they were all different, an anonymous litany of private fears and dreams. Gradually repetition crept in and, by the time I had opened my eyes, there was nothing I had been given more often than patience.
Patience seemed to ring in my ear as if the whispered word had somehow come from my own brain. It felt as if I was carrying their secret, as if I had a responsibility, and an ability, to be patient.
So what does it mean to be patient?
In the quiet of the room I tried to untangle its meaning and complexities. To find peace in the moments that seem to automatically bring frustration? To show compassion and empathy for others, and for ourselves? To stop rushing towards some unknown future, and instead appreciate the gradual unfurling of things?
Impatience is part of the habitual reaction I have towards my speech. It is not a part of myself I’m particularly enamored with. I find it far easier to be patient with others, to give them the time I believe we all deserve. It takes far more effort to have patience with the moments of my stuttered speech, to forgive myself for all the ways I’m not perfect and accept that the process of change is not well-suited to my desire for instant gratification.
In my mind patience does not mean apathy. It does not mean taking a step back from the world and waiting for our rewards. It is a far more difficult and active state. It widens our view of a situation, it asks us to question our assumptions and dispute the frustration that rarely serves us well. Patience gives us the capacity to wait until the right moment to act.
It is a word to whisper to ourselves, a powerful amulet against our irrational fallacies.
This article can also be found on my Psychology Today column.