NEW YORK (AP) -- There is a teen-ager who listens. Really. He even understands the difference between hearing people speak and listening to what they are saying.
Of course, this insight didn't happen overnight. This is knowledge that has come with nine months of silence.
Brett Banfe hasn't spoken a word since September, when he made a promise to himself to keep quiet for a year. He says he has learned more about communication and interaction since taking that oath than he had in his first 18 years.
"Listening is the most important social interaction we as humans can make to improve human relations, yet we spend the least amount of time on it because it is outward, not inward. We spend our time on our appearance, our hairstyle...when in my opinion, listening, is far more important than all of these, yet it hardly even seems like an interaction."
Banfe, of Haddonfield, N.J., responded to questions by typing into a laptop computer.
(Technology has made it easier to be quiet for a year, Banfe says. The freshman at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., carries a text pager to type short comments and e-mail allows him to keep in touch with his family while he's away at school.)
The decision to go silent was made suddenly but it was not a whim.
In the days immediately preceding his departure for college, Banfe was feeling a little directionless, realizing that in the past he had trouble seeing things through and achieving goals. Not speaking for 365 days would be a test of his will.
"I didn't really originally try and have an affect on other people, it was just I realized how this could apply to the rest of my life. It would be just a priceless and unprecedented lesson," Banfe says.
He's now realized it's more than that.
"If we walk around all day and talk about the weather and sports and whatnot, that really doesn't have any effect on the quality of one's life, but if you can inspire them to quit smoking because they get a crystal clear picture that they CAN do it, and WILL, that moment is so special. I think that's saying something worth saying."
Banfe's mother, Sharon, credits her son's commitment to silence in making her decision to stop smoking. And Banfe says silence has helped him in school and even in meeting girls.
"When guys meet girls they can almost -- and I notice this now clearly -- pull out a list and might as well read off the list all the things they 'are,' like 'sensitive' and 'I don't like sports much,"' Banfe says.
Those words now ring so hollow to Banfe. Instead, he says he concentrates on being a good person, which he hopes will have a positive affect on other aspects of his life.
To nudge his fellow teens toward his thought-before-action philosophy, Banfe is encouraging students across the country to participate in an hour of silence on May 23.
The silence is not meant to be religious or cultish, Banfe stresses, it is just meant to encourage thought and listening.
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