“Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.” (David Hockney)
It is becoming increasingly difficult to listen. Equally importantly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to listen. And, by listen, I mean really listen.
Many of us have been blessed with almost perfect or, at least, adequate hearing abilities, but how many of us actually, truly hear and listen to what others have to say? Do we listen with the intent to understand? Or do we listen with the intent to reply?
Last week I shared a perspective on writing from a fellow blogger. I loved her thoughts on writing because, while she blogs quite regularly sharing her thoughts and opinions several times a week, she admits that writing can be a very solitary thing. Perhaps writing can even be a lonely occupation or hobby. It can be something that a writer ends up just doing for herself, even if it means no one will ever read her words before she lights them on fire and sets them free. Perhaps the words are not written for others and perhaps others are not ready to read the words.
Talking about any hobby or passion can be fun, but talking about ‘writing’ can be a touchy thing for many writers. Many people are so busy and caught up in their own lives they barely have time to sit down and listen to what is going on in someone else’s world, let alone when it’s a fictional one. And when one talks too much about oneself, or one’s writing, it can border on feeling a bit egotistical and self-centered to both the talker and to the listener as well. Vulnerability is also exposed as we open ourselves up to criticism, judgment, and scrutiny even from our most well-meaning audience and when we feel vulnerable we are less likely to open up again in the future, even if there was someone willing to listen.
I’ve often wished that I was important and/or wealthy enough to have a personal assistant. It would be fantastic to have someone to help keep me organized, to do the bill-paying, finances, and other organizational things for me, but the real reason I wish I had a personal assistant is that there would always be someone who was there to listen. Now before you think that sounds sad and pathetic, let me explain. While I would paying her (most likely it would be a her), she would be there at a moment’s notice for me to bounce ideas off of, to listen to me rant and rave about my lack of creativity or whatever else was currently irking me, and to encourage me and be in my corner 100 % of the time cheering me on during my more creative or successful moments because it would be her job to do it, without any other distractions. I wouldn’t feel badly about her having to listen to me because it would be a requirement of her employment. (And, hopefully, she would enjoy her job.)
There are many of us, writers and non-writers, who have friends and people in our lives who are great listeners and wonderful pillars of support, but there are also those who may feel that they go about their days not being heard. They feel that they cannot express their true thoughts and feelings because they are afraid that there will be no one willing to listen. The best gift anyone can give others is their time – but not just their time alone, but the time to truly listen to what is being said and to what is not being said as well. True listening is hearing the words both spoken and unspoken. True listening is not about wanting to ‘hear’ so that gossip can be spread around, to have something juicy to share with others, or to hold information over another’s head. True listening is about hearing, feeling, and reading body language out of what the other person needs you to realize and understand.
When we are truly listening we realize when it is the time to stay quiet and when is the time to speak up. We know when we are expected to ‘help’ and when it is hoped that we will just ‘hear’. Truly listening is not about fixing what is broken, but about allowing someone to figure out their own repairs through talking things out to someone else. When we are truly listening we are not interrupting or looking for a way to interject our two cents worth, although we may ask questions to further our understanding of the situation or to clarify the speaker’s feelings to us. Truly listening has much less to do with us and much more to do with the person we are listening to. It’s not about what we can add, but what we can help to take away – the stress, frustration, fear, worry, etc.
Truly listening is indeed a positive act – it requires more of us to be quiet and to completely hear than it does to speak and thereby potentially close ourselves off from an opportunity to help someone else.
Who is truly listening in your life?