If I were to write a book right now, I would talk about how important it is to be heard.
I think some of our worst decisions are made when we feel like no one is listening. I used to have a recurring nightmare that ended with me screaming and crying while the people I needed to hear me milled around unaffected. I’ve never felt more like a prisoner than when I was trapped behind that invisible soundproof wall.
When we are unheard, we get louder. If not in word, than in deed, and that’s where the real trouble begins.
If I were to write a book right now, I would talk about how important it is that we listen.
One of the very first things I learned in marriage counseling was how to listen. I had previously imagined myself to be a good listener; I could sit for hours and talk to you about your life and your problems. But I hadn’t the faintest clue how to just listen. More importantly, I didn’t know how to make someone feel heard.
Neither did my husband.
We were two people on the brink of divorce and I firmly believe that learning how to listen pulled us back from the cliff’s edge. It still amazes me how powerful a silent ear can be. Even the most volatile of situations can be quickly diffused by an empathetic listener. And oh, Lord, the relief that comes from being heard. Sometimes you don’t even know that’s what you needed until someone gives it to you, and then the stress and anger and fear rushes out like steam.
If I were to write a book right now, I would talk about how much the world needs us to just listen. Full stop.
Before counseling, I thought I was a good listener. What I’ve since learned is that I was an overeager helper. Everything that was said to me became twisted in my head until it was about what I needed to do.
You’re scared? You’re lonely? You’re hungry? You’re hot? You’re not sure whether that thing is infected?
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?!?!?! Here, let me tell you what you should do! Or! Better still! I’ll do it for you!
I thought this was noble. I thought this was generous and a sign of what good people do. I had no idea how much I was taking from people by rushing in to fix instead of sitting beside them to listen. I couldn’t see the line between sharing my experience and pushing my values and agenda. I couldn’t see how much of my anger and resentment started with my unsolicited help.
If I were to write a book right now, I would tell you that people don’t need to be fixed.
I helped because someone had to. I helped because you were hurting, and I didn’t want you to hurt anymore. I helped because you were complaining, so obviously you needed solutions. I helped because if I didn’t, you wouldn’t figure it out for yourself.
And yet, you do. You all do. We all do. We figure out answers to the most impossible problems. We lose children and spouses and siblings and we figure out how to get up in the morning. We fail magnificently and cower in corners and blow money we don’t have, and we find our own reasons to do things differently eventually. Or we don’t. But we go on. Life goes on. And we are stronger and richer for having figured it out.
It may take moments, months, or years, but in the end we look back and are amazed at how big our old problems once seemed. Always. This is always the way of things for humans.
The secret, I believe, to good listening is faith in common humanity, in realizing that you are no more and no less capable of figuring things out than anyone else.
If I were to write a book right now, I would tell you that listening is the key.
To better parenting. To stronger marriages. To beautiful friendships. To inner peace.
To, perhaps, even world peace.
If I were to write a book right now, that’s what I would say.
What would you say?