The great Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu, once observed: “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
Wisdom often comes from quiet observation. When we try to connect with others, it is often our words that get in the way. Studies show that 93% of communication does not pertain to language and over half of communication has nothing to do with sound at all. It is quite possible that two people sitting in silence could connect and learn more about one another than two people who are speaking.
It is as if our minds are one-way pipes that only take in information effectively when no information is being pushed outward. In silence, there is constant intake. In silence, we are open and ready. When we do not speak, our other senses deepen. When we do not speak, the world around us comes alive. When we do not speak, we know.
As I have learned more about human beings like Juniper, who have been born with deletions or mutations of 9q34.11 (STXBP1), I have learned that over 95% of these beautiful humans do not speak common language.
So, it is possible that Juniper will also not communicate using the language that I use to write this post. She may not speak any language our current societies have recorded or recognized. But that will not mean, it does not mean, that she does not speak. If I were to assume that, then it would be clear that I am a terrible listener.
We cannot just open our ears to listen, we must open our eyes, our noses, our mouths, our hands and most of all, we must open our minds. We have been taught to understand things in a certain way. We’ve been taught a structured vocabulary. We’ve been taught definitions and categories.
We’ve been taught that a bird is just a bird. A bird has wings, feathers, a beak and bones. A bird is an endothermic vertebrate. A bird can fly and we cannot.
But when I listen to the bird herself, I learn more about her than I ever could from a book. I learn about the peace she has to share with me. She doesn’t use words, but I don’t need them to know her well. I see her wings in my own arms. I see color more than I see feathers. She sings a song to me and tells me of her beautiful children. She’s happy today, but she must remain vigilant. She sees me sitting near her, watching her. She notices my posture and she knows that I mean no harm. She moves on and, in away, I fly off with her into the sky.
In my own life, I have often connected more with animals than I have with people. Maybe this is because I am a terrible conversationalist. Maybe it is because animals, like my dog Townes, are easier to get along with than people. Or, maybe it’s because animals do not speak and that seems to make them more accessible.
Townes, for example, lays outside of the nursery as the girls sleep. This gesture tells me he loves them. He doesn’t have to say a word - we all know. One could ignore his actions, step over him and see him as just a dog. But he is more than a dog. He is a wise old man now. He knows of the incoming storm before I do. He is not burdened by the future or the past. He knows of the now. He knows how to express love. He just knows.
When I learned that Coley was pregnant, I expected to teach my little girls more than I’d learn from them. I thought I’d be telling them how to live and how to speak to others. I was wrong. What I now know from Townes, from Laurel and June, and from that bird is that wisdom never wants for words.