Listen Up! Day 3: Take a Breather | WBEZ
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Only Human

Listen Up! Day 3: Take a Breather

You’ve made it to Day 3 of our Listen Up! bootcamp week. Thanks for sticking with us. If you’re here for the first time, it’s not too late. Here’s how to participate.

The Challenge: Take three minutes of silence by yourself. Do it before before you head off to work, or before an important conversation. Tune in to your breathing or the layers of sound you hear, like the drip of the coffee maker, or the traffic outside.

Silence gives your ears and your mind a chance to recalibrate. So often we scramble to fill up that space with something, anything. But the best listeners know when others just need to be heard.

It’s something Ken Feinberg relies on to do his job. He’s the lawyer and mediator who oversaw the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He had a similar role after the massacre at Virginia Tech, the Sandy Hook shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing.  Feinberg has listened to countless stories from victims' families — stories full of grief, anger, resentment — and then has the difficult task of having to put a dollar amount on that loss.

After one exchange with a man who had lost a son during 9/11, Feinberg learned an important lesson:

"Without thinking, I said to this man, 'Mr. Jones, This is just terrible. I know how you feel.' He looked at me, tears coming down his cheeks. He said, 'Mr. Feinberg, you have a tough job. But I have some friendly advice.  Don’t tell anybody like me that you know how I feel. Mr. Feinberg, you have no idea how I feel.'" 

Truly empathetic listening, Feinberg says, is not just about saying the right thing, but knowing when the other person just needs to be heard. And one thing that helps give people an empathetic ear? A little solitude.

"I think contemplation and silence while you sort out life’s dilemmas is a positive. It certainly is for me," Feinberg says.

So take a breather. Even better take a few. The more often the better.

How hard is it to find your three minutes? Where does your mind go during that time? And most important: does taking three minutes help you in the conversations you’re having today?Tweet us @onlyhuman or leave a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC.


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