If you listen carefully, what will you hear?
You'd think being an only child meant I didn't have to compete to be heard. True on one level and on another, not so much. I've wondered if anyone truly hears anyone else (their hopes, their dreams, their suffering) through the cacophony of individual aches, pains and wounded perspectives.
I frequently have to remind myself to pay attention; this can be difficult for a chatterbox, one who fills the quiet with questions, thoughts and jokes. Oh sure, I'm very comfortable with silence (my old friend) as long as no one else is around. People meant performance when I was a kid. Pomp and circumstance in an Italian home meant receiving guests with the red carpet approach. Showtime! I was a one-girl circus--plate-spinning, fire-juggling, Laurel and Hardying it up to keep my folks and the company entertained.
Even when being asked for advice or needing to offer an opinion, I take note: What is at the core of this issue? What past problems might be combining to create this current situation?
I was reflecting on all this last week and woke up to BBC's The Why Factor episode on the subject. Here is Nadine Barr, a volunteer with an organization in the UK called Samaritans, on the ability to listen:
"We are a society based on advice giving and solution finding and drawing conclusions on every situation and so sometimes people might not recognize that you can hep someone by allowing them to talk, by really truly listening and giving them that time. Often people mix up sympathy and empathy. So people think they are showing empathy but they're showing sympathy. The problem or situation that is presented to them -- they approach from the way they would deal with it or their perspective. And to show empathy - it's actually about seeing it from and understanding it from the other person's perspective."
The greatest gift you can give someone is to listen, truly, actively listen without interrupting, making suggestions or telling them what you think right away. Offer her a cup of tea, a glass of water, a shot of espresso, or a gallon of wine after she has unburdened herself. Many people don't feel heard in this loud wide world. Not listening (to others or myself) has gotten me into a jumble of trouble over time, and the ripple effects of that skipping stone are still making their way to shore.
Not being heard, similar to not being seen or appreciated for who you really are, is a sucker-punch to the soul. This gorgeous song by Ze Frank at the end of his web playroom TEDTalk is comforting. Also, Long Ambients by Moby — "slow calm pretty chords" — is tranquil brilliance.
Ah. To be able to hear what is being said - to you or by you - this is a talent to possess.