Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I Believe in the Power of Listening
When I think back it seems like such a long time ago when I realized that I did not know what it was that I believed.
I was a Social Worker, mostly with children who are victims of violence and their families, for almost twenty years now and I think I have finally learned some things, including some things I believe.
One of the things that I believe is in the power of listening. I believe that this is the single most important thing I can do; certainly much more important than much of the minutiae and bureaucracy that seemed to fill up my typical work day before I retired. Now I have different minutiae and bureaucracy filling up my days, but at least it’s my minutiae and bureaucracy!
And the source of this insight came to me from what at the time seemed the most improbable of sources - children.
Children need to be heard. The world seldom listens to them but children have much to say. And they know how important it is because we tell them all the time. Yet rarely do we ever demonstrate by, well by listening. Children learn much more from what we do than from what we say.
It was the most fortunate accident of my professional life that I learned that if I wanted to help people – a good thing is for me to let them tell me what they need. That would seem like a pretty obvious and simple thing, but like most everything else of any value in life, it is more difficult than it sounds.
Sometimes the truths that people need to share are plain and they shout them. Sometimes they whisper. Sometimes they are too private or painful to speak. Sometimes they are buried somewhere deep and safe. Sometimes people don’t yet know what they need or how to ask for it. And yet, if I listen, they will tell me.
I have seen this kind of deep, passionate, visceral listening be cathartic and heal wounds. I have seen this kind of listening bind together those who have been torn apart. And I have seen understanding and acceptance grow with this kind of listening.
This kind of listening we do with our eyes and hearts and souls as much as with our ears. This kind of listening is a deliberate and conscious choice. And this kind of listening means that even as we listen to the other, we must also listen to ourselves.
Generally we seem to be much more impressed by people who speak well, or at least loudly. And yet, somewhere deep inside of us all we know how important it is to really listen to each other “because after all, a person’s a person no matter how small.”
This is the listening to which I aspire and try to practice. I can tell you that I am still not always so good at it. But I am determined to keep trying. I want to become a great listener, a passionate, creative, involved listener. I want to make listening my very best thing and I want you to make it your very best thing too. Just imagine what kind of world it might be if we all wanted to make being a great listener our very best thing.