Painting by Belynda Wilson Thomas
The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Ralph Nichols
“No one listens to me but you,” I heard my son say to Krypto our Scottish Terrier when my son was about twelve. My Mom said when she was a young married woman living in the city she wished she could just find an old cow to wrap her arms around and talk to. I’ve many times wished I could wrap my arms around a horse.
We may be putting human characteristics on animals but it seems they listen and understand, if not what we are saying then our tone. They twitch their ears, offer comfort and we are not alone with our feelings.
Listening is the cornerstone of a good relationship. We need to feel heard to feel understood. When we don’t have the time, patience, skills or interest to listen to people they can become lonely and depressed. During a time of depression, feeling listened to can seem as critical as breathing air.
Sometimes it takes one person in someone’s life to listen to them that helps them move on. We hear about students who found that teacher. It is one of the things we get from being part of religious organizations, someone to listen to us and help us sort out our feelings and our life. Therapists are paid a lot of money, and part of it is to listen.
I had a conversation with my husband the other day. He doesn’t see the reason for long conversations with strangers. My response is you usually don’t have short conversations when they are short that’s just chit chat. Real conversations that impact people take a little longer.
If we have lots of people in our life we may not need conversation so much. We get it from everyone. Some people are not so lucky, their circle is small. People don’t always have someone to talk to. Sometimes the most important things are said to strangers because we may not feel we can talk to our family. We feel we would be judged, ridiculed, ostracized. This is why many hairdressers need to be good listeners. Like they say “only our hairdresser knows.”
Listening is not “Yes, but.” Listening is not, “this is what you should do.” Listening is not getting defensive, I need to work on this. Listening is not giving advice or telling someone they shouldn’t be thinking or feeling what they are thinking or feeling. Sometimes we only work out our thoughts in conversation. Our thoughts are all jumbled up in our mind waiting to be released through conversation. Journalling helps release those thoughts, but even those of us who journal still need a listening ear and connection.
We often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved. Larry Barker
Sometimes people feel they can only talk about safe subjects, but it isn’t the safe subjects they need to talk about. I’m reading a book called “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. It is her journey of finding herself as a Christian woman, wife, mother, writer and her conflicts with how women are portrayed in the bible and in the Church. The second created and the first to sin. The woman is man’s glory and her glory is her hair. Let women learn in silence and be submissive. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man.
I remember reading those things and how they impacted me as a girl on the cusp of womanhood. When you stumble across these things, who do you talk to about them? How do we process our place in the world? When I expressed it to one of my Aunt’s and I don’t know how I phrased it. She replied, “There are gifts, or joys or something in being a woman.” It was probably the best answer because it was true, and she didn’t make me feel stupid for not liking what I was hearing. I felt understood, acknowledged and like I didn’t need to like what I was hearing, and that it was okay to think and question.
It seems like a small thing, to acknowledge what someone is feeling and not diminish it. She could have said I didn’t have a right to not like what I was hearing or to question the bible, and it would have affected me in a completely different way.
When someone listens to us, really listens we feel accepted, understood, valued and validated. We don’t feel invisible or alone and it gives us a voice to help us find our self again.
It is very powerful to be a listener. It is a skill worth developing. I’m trying, it isn’t always easy especially with some of the people we need to listen to the most. That is when defensiveness rears its ugly head. We feel if we let them say what they are saying we are agreeing that what they are saying is true. A lot of the time we don’t agree with their side of the story, not completely.
We still need to hear them out, let them tell their side of the story completely and then when it is our turn to tell our side hopefully they will listen to us. When we try to talk over each other nothing is accomplished but more hurt feelings. The feelings get even more hurt because not only is there whatever happened, but by not feeling heard they feel they don’t count, they aren’t important, their point of view is not regarded.
We need to save our side of the story for another time. If we are telling our side of the story and they are telling their side of the story at the same time, no one is listening. No one feels listened to. There is no understanding, there is no healing. This is how a lot of problems don’t get solved and yet are talked about endlessly. But we protest, we do communicate, we do talk, it just isn’t working because the other person isn’t feeling listened to and then when it is our turn we don’t feel listened to either.
We can tell ourselves we listen endlessly, but our “yes buts,” and telling our side of the story doesn’t move the relationship along. It becomes an endless loop of conversations that goes nowhere, nothing changes, and neither party feels heard or understood.
We need to learn to listen. If we have rifts in our families listening is the likely antidote. Listening is the key to understand, and understanding is the key to healing. It isn’t always easy but it’s worth it.
Is there someone in our life we need to listen to and understand their side of the story? Can we seek first to understand before seeking to be understood?
The biggest mistake made by most human beings: listening to only half, understanding just a quarter, and telling double. Unknown
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