to Listen –
I have a friend who had a tough conversation earlier this week with one of the leaders at her work. It was a conversation long overdue but oftentimes these are easier to avoid than begin. Part of the challenge is the fact that once a grievance is aired, it can’t be taken back. If the person is caught unawares the conversation can get uncomfortable, quick! Another risk is the recipient might also see this time as an opportunity to unload something they’ve been holding back.
However, this wasn’t my friend’s experience. Her perception of the conversation was that the other wasn’t listening. There wasn’t much feedback or input from the other party. They sat there, injected a few words, and then moved on to another topic before ending the conversation. My friend was frustrated because nothing was solved and the subject will have to be addressed again.
Wisdom teaches us that; “Listening is not agreeing.” Too often, when someone confronts us, challenges our way of thinking, we become aggressive and want to prove to them and our ourselves we are right in our thinking. So, instead of listening while they are talking, understanding and evaluating what they have to say, we are too busy planning what we are going to say next in our minds. We don’t listen and aren’t open to something that might be said which we need to hear. Even if, as we carefully and contemplatively listen, don’t find something we can at least show the other person what they say matters.
Listening is not agreeing but it is allowing the other person to be and have a worldview which might not be ours but is respected because we honor them.
Handle with Care –
Today the Mrs. and I decided to reorganize the kitchen. We wanted to rid ourselves of extra cups, plates, tea brewers, cake molds and more. As a man who is married to a wonderful cook, I knew when we started I was on her turf. As I moved anything breakable a gorgeous pair of blues eyes watched me. There were times when I would bump coffee mugs, Lenox ware, and other fragile items and though I didn’t break them I could feel her cringe every time. We finally finished with what we could do together and she told me she would take care of the few remaining items. I am positive it was her not so subtle way of saying; “You’ve been in my space long enough!” I didn’t argue and told her if she needed me to say something. Not a word was uttered.
Honoring each other’s space is wise. Different people have different spaces but each should be entered and exited with care. I knew a minister who used to have a large personal space. When you’d go to shake his hand he would lock his arm and elbow and not let you get any closer to him. Recognizing that places and spaces are valuable to people allows you to add a layer of respect and makes a way for deeper, more intimate conversation and strong relationships.
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.
Last night it was my privilege to give a group of dads a graduating certificate from our Incarcerated Fathers’ class. We began the evening by highlighting the previous twelve weeks and the core values we’ve learned as we walked this path together. Then each dad was called up to the front of the classroom and handed an official certificate stating they had completed the course.
I asked the fathers what they had learned over the last three months. Answers included; “how to respect others, communicate, control emotions, expressing emotions in productive ways, better understanding of how to love their children and family, self-awareness and the need to keep trying and not give up.” I followed by inquiring what they would miss about the class. One father stated; “Being with a group of guys and not worrying about sharing, someone judging, knowing we’re all on the same level trying to be better men and better dads.” For a man to express this in a jail, with a group of men he spends almost every minute of every day was huge and humbling.
One of the keys to listening, learning and changing is feeling safe and jail can be a dangerous place. In spite of being filled with people it can also be depressingly lonely. You keep to yourself, mind your own business and try not to get on the wrong side of anyone. You’re on edge constantly and never let your guard down. For a place designed to keep groups of people confined and secure, isolation and fear are ever-present.
Bring together a group of men who’ve seen the worst this world has to offer, living in a place they don’t want to be, put there by both their choices and the choices of others, plop them in a room and trouble seems the likeliest outcome. However, the opposite can happen if you treat them with respect, listen to their stories, see them as equals and commit to walk this part of their journey with them. Do this and friendships are formed, confessions are uttered, weaknesses recognized, worth is bestowed and people become more than what they believed possible.
We are all so very much alike. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. What we need is someone to help us feel safe, a person who makes us feel accepted, loved, appreciated, valued for where we’ve been and where we’re going.