Today, at a county health council, I had the privilege to listen to a man speak about an abusive childhood which was saved by someone who cared enough to take him under his wing and become his mentor. He described how this older gentleman would take him out for breakfast some morning and listen, just listen. This went on for several months. Finally, it dawned on the young man that he wasn’t being judged or given unsolicited advice, his mentor was there to hear him. He listened to the good and a lot of bad, the smidgen of positive and a plethora of negatives. The young man, at last, ran out of words to say and the mentor slowly helped him work through all the challenges and difficulties which result from growing up in an abusive and neglectful home. This mentor made all the difference in his life and as a result, the speaker now helps run a multi-county mentoring program and has improved the lives of countless young men and women.
It was a great reminder that most times the greatest gifts we can give another is presence and listening. Too often we see our role in the chaotic lives of others as telling them what to do, how to do it, advice that will make things better and shape to look more like ours. The speaker said today; “I didn’t need someone to tell me all the things I needed to do. I needed someone to let me get it all out so I could sort through it all and figure out what to keep and what to throw away.”
Presence and listening. Two of the greatest and perhaps least used treasures we possess.
Excuse Me –
Someone asked me today; “Who’s your favorite killer?” I did a double take and asked in return; “My favorite what?” “Color,’ came the response, ‘favorite color?” “Oh!, blue,” I said. I was told I needed to work on my Tennessean listening skills.
It was a good laugh at my expense and a good reminder about listening. Each of us come from a unique background. We often forget that when we are speaking and listening to someone. People speak using words we don’t use, wouldn’t use, aren’t sure how to use. Folks speak with biases, colored by experiences, influenced by generational cycles of positive and negative cultural, religious and familial understandings.
This is why it is so important to listen with our whole being, not casually while we mess with our phones, distract ourselves with “more important” things or not honor the person who is speaking with mindfulness and focus.
Listening is a sacred gift we can give one another.
Learning and Letting Go –
Today was a training day for learning what is and how to do Motivational Interviewing. It sounds like a discipline someone would learn who is a professional job seeker! However, it is a counseling, teaching, technique that helps people overcome their biases and objections and allowing them to live a better life. I have done a quite a bit of training in Motivational Interviewing but the leader today was a Certified Motivational Interviewing Trainer so she had more information than online learning could give.
The two biggest keys to Motivational Interviewing are listening to learn the client’s story and needs and letting go of the idea we are responsible for the client’s success in counseling and/or learning. Our work is helping the client get to the place where they can choose for themselves their own path. By listening to understand who the client is and their willingness to get healthy in mind, body, and spirit, we can help them find the inner strength to make the changes that will impact them and their families.
I liked the training and the approach through my anxiety makes it difficult for me to sit for long periods as was the case today. It was a great reminder that we can’t fix people. It is not within our power to do so. What we can do is come alongside and help them discover their path and the willingness to walk it.
Role Play –
Today I attended a training in Nashville, Tennessee. After lunch, when all of the information had been given, we broke up into groups for role-playing. We were supposed to use the tools and insights we had gained from the speaker and put it into practice. We would either be the client with certain needs or the specialist seeking to help. We were also encouraged to improvise whichever role we were assigned to best fit the situation we found ourselves. It was interesting. My introvert side was certainly not thrilled about having to role play with a stranger but putting into practice what we’d learned was helpful.
As I drove home I reflected on the exercise and stepping into another’s shoes. When working with a client the most important thing we do is listen, try to understand where a client is coming from and to know their story. Only when we understand our client’s history can we truly give them the tools they need to reclaim their families, places in society, their lives.
Listening, seeing the world from another’s point of view, is the first and only way to love another as you wished to be loved.
Carrier or Cure –
I listened to a doctor today say that it was scientifically proven that the mood of one person can contaminate and infect an entire office or family. If an employee arrives to work exhausted, frustrated, malcontented, then it can “infect” their co-workers. If a family member is happy, content, joyful it too can spread to the other members of the family, lifting their spirits, helping them see the beauty in those who often drive one another crazy.
Most likely, each of us has experienced this phenomenon at work and at home. A husband or wife comes home in a foul mood after a long day of work, conflicts with another employee or the boss, fighting traffic and bringing this stress and anxiety with them as they cross the threshold of the family home. Or a co-worker, struggling with issues in the home, bringing their baggage to work.
The doctor noted that empathy, the ability to understand and feel what another person is experiencing, is an antidote that keeps the mood from spreading. Listening, patience, and the willingness to help the other are also effective in stopping the infection.
The question becomes; “are we a carrier or part of the cure?”
to Listen –
Today I unloaded on someone. It wasn’t in an angry way but therapeutically. I talked about all that’s been happening in my life and in the lives of the people I know and care about. It was almost an hour of pouring out my heart into her listening ear. She asked a few questions but mostly let me vent about things that I’m worried about, some of which I can take some kind of action but mostly things in which I need to accept the situation and my powerlessness over it.
At the end of our conversation, she didn’t tell me what to do or not do. She didn’t give me a list of positive affirmations or ways to avoid the situations. She listened and that’s what I needed her to do. After we finished I said; “Goodbye” and went home. Yet, somehow, I felt better, lighter, more stable in a chaotic season of life. Her listening ear was most welcome.
Many times we think of listening as the pause between what we want to say to the person who’s talking. To truly listen is not planning our next comeback, advice giving, compliment or criticism, it is having an open ear and sensing the moment as sacred. We receive the words with reverence and speak as if we are on Holy Ground.
I Can’t See –
This morning, in a worship service, Beth and I picked out our chairs, made ourselves comfortable and joined in on the song the praise team was singing. A mom with a boy was in front of us also worshipping. I wondered if they were new to the church we most often attend because I had never seen them before and oftentimes parents who are visiting a new church are hesitant to leave their child with the unknown folks who teach Sunday school and Children’s Church. A few songs into the worship team’s set her husband joined her standing directly in front of me. She was petite he was tall, at least 6’4, broad-shouldered, a mountain of a man.
A few moments passed and he bent down and picked his son up so he could see the worship team which means I now couldn’t see most of the stage. It wasn’t the end of worship but it was different not being able to see the team and the screen with the words. So, I closed my eyes and listened to the words being sung, allowed the music to direct and guide me. It’s always interesting when, for whatever reason, you are quiet in your spirit and simply listen, allowing a song to resonate in your soul. You move from performing in worship and it becomes something more.
“O’ Lord, may our silence be your praise,
and our stillness dancing.” #BrianLoging
Open Ears –
No one likes to be told they’re wrong, what they believe is misplaced, what they think is illogical, what they say is confused. Compliments are nice, they stay with us for a while, like a pretty flower, that eventually fades. Criticisms can be wounding and leave a scar that impacts how we live, feel about ourselves, understand our world. This is why criticism is met most often with denial and contempt.
However, one of the greatest disciplines is to learn how to listen to those who may not have the nicest things to say about us. In spite of the urge to fight or insult, hurt them for hurting us, simply dismiss, we should listen. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is; “Listening is not agreeing.” We listen out of respect for the other because we cannot be respected if we don’t first respect. We listen because each of us has our own ideas, ways of doing things, view of life
Finally, we listen because maybe they are saying something we need to hear. Some of the hardest criticisms to accept are those which end up being on target. Perhaps at first, we didn’t want to hear what was being said but a wise person always allows for the possibility of growth. After listening and reflecting we heed the criticism and, hopefully, grow and become a better person because of it.
Aristotle says; “The sign of a wise mind is the ability to think a thought and not necessarily believe it to be true.”
I believe Aristotle might add that sometimes, what is said and thought, turns out to be true.
Uncontrollable Words –
The other day I was cornered by someone who felt they needed to tell me something…actually, it was a lot of somethings. This person kept going on and on and on. I could literally feel myself wearing down from all the words, phrases that were being thrown my way. We weren’t communicating. I was doing my best to listen at first but after a while, I noticed they were just throwing words at me hoping something would stick. I was wrestling with which would be better; sticking my fingers in my ear while chanting; “La, la, la, la.” Grabbing a passerby and introducing the person to them hoping their focus would shift and I could sneak away or just making a break for it, running and seeing if they would pursue.
I was speaking, communicating, with another person last week about the art of talking and listening to another person. Wisdom tells us that true conversation is a sacred act. Meeting someone new, hearing secrets, weaknesses, dreams, memories, connecting on a deeper level requires not just words and phrases but silence and pauses. We allow the other’s being to be revealed and we share our own. This can’t be done if we never take a breath, if we are only wanting to be heard not also wanting to hear.
Sometimes working with people can be exhausting. You think you’ve reached a turning point which will make all the difference only to discover that around the corner leads to a dead-end.
I was speaking to a group of dads today and explaining to them each family, similar to individuals are unique. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to helping people get well and healthy. It takes time, effort and a willingness to listen, get to know, build trust and a relationship. Only then are you able to guide folks toward choices which benefit them and those they love.
Too often we approach people and life with a predetermined way of how things should be. We allow our biases, judgments and limited knowledge to build a lens which distorts our view. If we are to be of real service to those we love, our neighbors, those in need ,we cannot skip over respect, listening, building trust and relationships. If we only have a part of the picture and proceed to “fix” what we believe to be the problem we may end up causing more harm than good.
I stuck my foot in my mouth yesterday, not just the toes but the arch, all the way up to the heel!
It all started so innocently. I spotted someone I hadn’t seen in a while and stopped to speak with them for a few moments. Truth be known I was running late for an appointment and my mind was on where I needed to be not where I was and who I was talking with presently. I was only giving cursory attention to this one who is going through an incredibly difficult time.
After a few pleasantries I made a comment about a change this individual was making to a room. When the reason was given as to why, I missed the “key phrase” which, if I had been mindful of the person and the present, I would have understood what was and was NOT being said. I then could have steered the conversation in another, more pleasant direction.
However, it sailed right over my head and I then made another comment which, in most situations would’ve been benign, but was painful in the current setting. Immediately, after it had left my big mouth, I realized what this person was saying and not saying, why they were doing what they were doing, and wished I could do the whole thing over.
There is a spiritual discipline called contemplative listening. At the core of this practice is the instruction to be fully engaged with ear, mind, heart and spirit, open to fully receive the other person. It is the belief that every moment is holy and to only be partially available is to cheapen and risk missing a divine encounter.
Sometimes lessons are indeed learned the hard way.
It happened the week of my birthday. I had a headache and needed to take some meds. When I grabbed a pill bottle I seemed to bring it up closer to my eyes than ever before to read it. Uhoh! The thought struck me, one day, maybe soon, I will need …gasp…bi-focals! So I headed to the eye doctor to get checked out. It had been a while so the following week my wife and I visited a place called “Total Vision” (the perfect name for a contemplative!)
After checking in we looked at glass frames and waited for the doctor to call my name. Have you ever noticed that when you are waiting for your name to be called when it finally happens you feel like you have won the lottery? You jump up and walk with your nose a little higher in the air? Almost as if to look down upon those unfortunate ones who are still waiting?
We followed the assistant to a machine where I was instructed to place my head like so, rest my chin here and relax. I did what I was told and the machine blew air into my eye! I am sure the lady told me this was going to happen but I wasn’t paying attention. Following this I had to sit in another chair at a different machine and look at a kaleidoscope that focuses and un-focuses. This wasn’t too bad and was like being on an “acid trip” without the acid, I guess.I was then led to another chair and was told the doctor would call me when he was ready.
My name was called, I jumped up and went into the examination room. Eye exams are strange events. You sit in a chair, they turn off the lights, lower another weird contraption in front of your eyes and the doctor asks “can read this?” My first thought is always “not without my glasses. My eyesight is so bad I can’t even read the big E at the top of the chart without my specs! Doesn’t he have my file in front of him?”
After realizing just how impaired my sight is the doctor adjusts the lenses and repeats “is this better or worse? Number 1 or number 2?” At first all this does is remind me I should’ve gone to the bathroom before I sat in the chair but with a little patience and experience the examiner begins to help me see more clearly. The exam doesn’t take long but this time the doc seemed to go faster than usual. Rather abruptly the examination ended and he said “your right eye needs an adjustment but not your left.” I said “OK,” thanked him, picked out my frames and left.
A week later I had my new glasses and almost immediately I noticed that my eyesight on the right was crisp but my left was still blurry. Figuring it would take a few days to adjust I waited. Several days later and still no change, I was concerned. Going back I inquired with the receptionist if someone could see me and described the problem. He asked for my glasses and checked to see if the prescription and alignment was correct. They were good to go but I wasn’t leaving before the optometrist gave me another look.
After waiting, again, I was called back, again, eyeball blowing, again, pretty colors, again, more waiting, and the doctor called me back…yes, again. I informed him of what was happening, looked through the lens machine, answered the chart questions and he took his time. He not only used the machine but also handheld lenses. When it was over he said “I think we need to increase your prescription in your left eye as well.” I thanked him again, ordered a new lens and now everything is just peachy.
I wonder if I do that sometimes? Someone comes to me for clarity, wisdom, guidance and I just rush them through, hurry them up? Maybe someone doesn’t even want advice just to be listened to?
What if we took our time with everyone we met? What if we didn’t see them as an obstacle, an appointment, a to-do item, but rather was fully present for them in that moment? If we did that for each other maybe we would all see a little more clearly.
light and wisdom,