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The Listening Lemma

“In speaking, know how to keep your words”
-Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching

At the end of my RC fall semester, I remember how surprised I was on the first course evaluation day when the professor spoke to us like he had never spoken before: directly, candidly, and emotionally. He told us about what was most important in his life and gave us advice for our own futures. We gave him a standing ovation. Afterwards, many of us scratched our heads. How could we not have realized how cool our professor was, how human? And then it happened again. On the following course evaluation day, the professor “got real”, and once more we clapped and cheered like never before. We could see now that this was a pattern. We awaited our next professor speech and the next and the next. People who had never taken notes before did so now, double underlining “work-life balance”. I simply sat dumbfounded, enraptured by the feedback loops of emotion from professors to students. These were deeply personal moments for all of us, shared only within our section. But besides recalling the thrill of feeling connected to my section and professors, I also remind myself of the one piece of advice that sticks with me to this day, given to us (in a less paraphrased form) by a professor who spent a lifetime at this school:

You have just spent a semester having one of the most amazing experiences of your lives. Surrounded by brilliant people and experiencing more in a day than what most people experience in a week, you will be tempted to talk your heads off about it when people ask you about Harvard. And everyone will. They want to know what Harvard is like. But you must know when to stop yourself. If you talk too long, you will either bore them or make them envious. Set an internal timer, maybe two minutes, and when that time is up, even if you are in the middle of a sentence, say to them, “But enough about me! Tell me, what’s going on with you?” Say it sincerely and listen sincerely, and you will all be much happier for it.

December 11, 2006
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