I arrived in the US on 23rd May, after living in Australia for more than five years. Since my arrival, several people have alerted me to a number of webinars and urged me to listen. I’ve listened to about a dozen of them, all having to do, broadly speaking, with personal growth, spiritual development, and global evolution.
Well, it’s not true that I listened. I tried to listen. I wanted to listen. I gave my time and attention to listen.
But I couldn’t.
I kept getting headaches — not so much from what the people were saying, but from how they were saying it.
In spite of the following generalization, I feel it is accurate to say that in terms of speaking style, all the people, men and women alike, spoke with passion, sincerity, clarity, conviction, urgency. Perhaps the most noticeable style trait was what I call intensity. In terms of content, most had well-developed, if extremely intellectual, presentations. These are positive reviews, and one might think that I should have been able to listen all the way through. I couldn’t.
It wasn’t for lack of interest, as I’ve lived in this world of personal growth and spiritual development for 40 years, as a student, speaker, writer, and self-awareness teacher. I share what I’ve learned as I travel through and work within personal, organizational, social, and cultural circles. My interest was sincere. But I couldn’t listen.
Here’s why. No one was playful. Without playfulness, I can not listen to anyone for very long, especially when the topic is something as significant as global evolution. When people speak to me without playfulness, I start wheezing. I get what I call “subtle body asthma.” I can’t breathe. My head starts to pound and my ears ring. The oxygen is sucked from the air.
Playfulness is an important word and principle, one that I use often in my RealTime Speaking programs, in which I teach people how to speak authentically. I’ve spent considerable time reflecting on this word, what it means, and why it is so important and powerful. Playfulness means “nothing to defend.”
Perhaps the greatest barrier to authentic public speaking is people’s fear of being seen. To avoid the risk of transparency, vulnerability, and intimacy in speaking, people hide. They hide behind all kinds of things, including the need to be right.
Needing to be right, which I refer to as intensity, and it’s corollary, the fear of being wrong, blocks authenticity in speaking. The antidote is playfulness: nothing to defend. I say often: speaking authentically is about being real, not right.
Please think about this for a moment. If in your speaking you are not trying to be right, and you are not afraid of being wrong, you have nothing to defend. You shift from a right/wrong, good/bad polarity to simply, “Here is what I have to say.” We are not trying to be right. We are not afraid of being wrong. We are just expressing our “truth,” how we see things in this moment.
With nothing to defend, we fall almost inevitably into being playful. When we relate to others playfully, when we speak playfully, we create a gigantic space of magic in which all kinds of things can, and often do, happen miraculously. Within this playful space of relating and speaking, there is no pressure, no push, no pull. It’s as if we don’t even care to produce a result! We’re just playing. Who doesn’t want to join in and play?
Being playful does not compromise our sincerity, conviction, or clarity. It does, however, drain the life out of intensity. Intensity is the antithesis of playfulness. Intensity is the bully on the playground, stealing all the joy, spontaneity, pleasure, and connection that we experience in play. Intensity ruins playfulness, beats it up with needing to be right.