Is there a Reluctant Mute and Dumb in your home?


“Many of us have lost the capacity for listening and using loving speech in our families. It may be that no one is capable of listening to anyone else. So we feel very lonely even within our own families.” …. Thich Nhat Hanh

The lonely figure in our families may just be our very own mother or father. In many Asian societies, when the parents advance into their twilight years, they depend on their children to take care of, and to provide for them. If the children take such duty as an imposed burden and are bearing it grudgingly, then ‘loving speech’ and the ‘capacity for listening’ would definitely be missing in the relationship. The old parent or parents are left with no choice but to become the  ‘ reluctant mutes and dumbs ‘ within their own families.

They withdrew into such shells , not out of their own volition but because they have no other options opened to them. If they were to open their mouths, their words, would more often than not, fall on deaf ears. They are usually ignored or, even worse, treated with contempt. How much scorn, contempt can they endure? Feeling the aversion of their own ‘flesh and blood’, they bite their tongues and swallow whatever they wish they could voice. They could only shed tears, but these tears usually flow right back into their broken hearts.

Old people found in such unenviable situations, need not our sympathy, but our emphatic ears and sensitive speech, says Thich Nhat Hanh.

The Vietnamese Zen master says …. “So, if you really love someone, train yourself to be a listener. Be a therapist. You may be the best therapist for the person you love if you know how to train yourself in the art of deep, compassionate listening. You must also use loving speech. We have lost our capacity for saying things calmly. We get irritated too easily. Every time we open our mouths, our speech becomes sour and bitter. We know it is true. We have lost our capacity for speaking with kindness.”

Yes, irritation comes easily to us and we react unkindly to our parents. We do not fully realize how sour and bitter our words have become. Our old parents get hurt, many a times, because we have become insensitive, indifferent to their feelings. Our callous feelings have gained the upper hand.

But, if we find we have unwittingly turned our parents into ‘reluctant mutes and dumbs’ within our own homes, there is an option still open to us to make amends. We can do what the master has advised! His are the words of true wisdom! Remember he says ‘train’, we need not expect instant change or success in our new behavior.

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