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Monday, March 5, 2012

The gift of listening.


It is a great gift to be able to sit and listen to another person. To allow oneself to be completely open and present to another’s vulnerability as they share a story or a memory is an exercise that many people in our society struggle with. To many people it’s uncomfortable to let down their walls of stoicism and selfishness to be empathetic towards a person outside of themselves. It seems counter intuitive to take care of another person when you yourself were taught by this culture of domination to find the limelight and kick all others out of it…

And let’s be honest, that limelight is pretty addictive.

When I was growing up as an only child who liked to talk to adults and partake in conversations other children my age weren’t necessarily sharing in, I was taught the importance of being able to really take in another person’s words. ’It’s one thing to wait until your turn to speak, and another to listen carefully’, my mother used to tell me. Her words lingered in my mind, as I tried to understand the complexity of her meaning. It was hard to wrap my mind around the idea of truly listening to another person.

Wasn’t I listening when I heard the story? Wasn’t that enough?

But that’s not right, is it? She didn’t use the word ‘hear’ she used the word ‘listen’.

Is there possibly a difference?

As an artist, I can only vouch for myself when I say I love to hear myself talk. I can talk and talk and talk all day long if you let me. I used to babble on about absolutely nothing instead of searching for the most precise way to say things [in many ways, this terrible habit has leaked into my writing—as I’m sure you’ve noticed]. It wasn’t until I was forced to be around other artists that I realized how obnoxious this could be.

And so art school painfully taught me the difference between listening and hearing.

To listen was to embrace the person with every fiber of your being. To acknowledge, empathize and read between the lines. To listen was the gift of getting out of oneself to attend to another’s needs and wants without agenda.

And to hear? To hear was to take the words at surface level and move on.

We are so jaded. Being able to articulate your thoughts is a blessing, but how often are the thoughts that are being articulated worth speaking?

Perhaps I sound cynical because I’ve heard too many pointless stories or have met far too many people that like the sound of their own voice…but I’m beginning to realize how dynamic a relationship becomes when you simply let go of self and begin to truly listen to someone outside of yourself.

How many times have I been shocked to find that someone that I’ve judged to be ‘superficial’, suddenly bares their honest and beautiful souls once they are given the opportunity to be real— what a difference being attentive can make. Others who are seen as rough around the edges, melt as soon as they realize that they don’t have to be hard to be made visible. And sometimes people are so numb to not truly being listened to that they find they are uncomfortable when they’re finally given the space they deserved in the first place.

Funny how that works.

In a way, the bashful, the fearful, the introverts, the loners, the modest, the sheepish, the wary, the unresponsive, the unwilling and unsocial…those who may be seen in this society as not speaking up, could be seen as the pioneers in the world of truth and intentionality for being given the gift of listening. Many of them have the innate ability to listen, while others have taken it upon their shoulders to learn how. And while we hope that they teach us every day by example, one can only wonder. What of their story? How many people ask them questions about themselves? Surely their stories are just as rich, if not more, than those who love to talk? Who will listen to them?

My new goal is to truly listen to someone I’m not close to each day. I feel that this is the time in my life when I am being asked to learn to speak only when necessary, and even more so…speak volumes with silence.

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