Walt Whitman: an American voice that never dies

The right words to say the big things has been on my mind. I can yell at the top of my lungs why it’s wrong for you to believe ______. What’s harder is finding the right place in your mind for truly listening. Walt Whitman sets an example of how to do that.

I’ve been reading Walt Whitman for a radio show I’ll be recording tomorrow. Of all of his poetry and essays, one that really grabbed my throat was “The Sleepers,” I’ve included it below for your enjoyment.

What’s the most striking part of it are the lists of all the people sleeping. Everyone: murderers, children, wives and husbands, everyone he mentions, just sleeping. Why is this remarkable?

Well, for one, most poetry of the time wasn’t inclusive. There are characters that matter and characters that don’t. It’s such a democratically American thing to do to recognize and include all types of people.

He recognized something that is true for all of us and in a way you get the impression that we are equal in sleep.

Yes, I know, I’m just getting that glint of patriotic sentiment. But hear me out: imagine having this attitude when you have big things to say? In order to do so, you need to have empathy for others. The recognition that these other people are in fact living different lives and warrant as much consideration as your own opinion forces you to listen because these people matter enough for you to imagine what their lives might be like.

Not novel, but I think it’s an idea often forgotten. And Whitman does it so beautifully.

Anyways if you’re looking for less Poetic and more practical, the best book I’ve ever read on the subject is: Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

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