Pass the Talking Stick
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” – Ecclesiastes 9:17
In 9 years of working with church small groups, I’ve come to believe that the most valuable tool a leader can possess is the ability to get someone to shut up.
In any group, there is always (at least) one person who has trouble sharing the “air time.” Nothing is more destructive to community or good decision-making than a conversation dominated by a single voice.
Group leaders are ingenious in their attempts to create space for dialogue rather than monologue. They ring bells and pass around “talking sticks” that allow only one speaker at a time. They become experts at interjecting just at the moment, however brief, when the speaker must take a breath. They employ creative combinations of gentle hand gestures and stern looks that seek to convey the message, “Namaste, I bow to the God in you. And that God is currently violating our group covenant.”
When it works, everyone is rewarded. Even the over-sharer. The voices of those who have been marginalized gain prominence. The conversation grows more complicated and more truthful. The quiet wisdom of the group is given space in which to emerge.
The same is true within me. When faced with a challenge, the first voices to speak up are rarely those of wisdom. They are the reactionary rulers, and the echoes of their shouting make it hard to concentrate on anything else. The most valuable tool I possess (sometimes) is the ability to get myself to shut up, and listen for a quieter voice.
Wisdom, don’t let me be that guy. Silence my anxious shouting within and without. And speak.
Vince Amlin is Associate Minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida.