When my dad and I used to go for coffee and long conversation, he impressed upon me the importance of being a good listener. He told me to always make eye contact, let them know you are listening by nodding your head, asking questions when the narrative was unclear or a term unfamiliar. He said one of the essential parts of being a good listener is that for however long that person is speaking, it is all about them. The tendency, of course, is for us to want to let them know we understand, we can relate and to tell our tale of personal experience on said topic. Seems innocent enough, but what it does do is shift the entire focus of the conversation on me, the listener. For a speaker who feels as though they are never heard, no matter the words, the intensity or the yelling until their throats go raw, this is not a good conversation. Their voice, their story, their fears and uncertainties are being drowned out by the crashing roar of someone else’s regaling of tears, fears and tumultuous times. Mind you, this listener is trying to connect, to let the speaker know they are totally understanding and empathetic, sympathetic and wanting to help.
Fast forward a few decades and I find myself sitting across the table from yet another person who I have attempted to have a romantic/intimate relationship with and I am having some serious doubts about where our relationship is going and feel rather like I’m an extra on a bad TV sitcom where the writers are high on too many edibles and the laugh track is set for tragedy. But because I’m hard-wired at this point to make everything all about THEM (whomever they may be) I am not able to be assertive, to steer the conversation back to where I need it to be, where I can be heard and fears can be quelled or ties can be cut. The simple gift of one’s time and full attention is truly priceless. For everything else there’s Amazon, I suppose.
I now understand that in order to be a truly good listener, it helps to have a sense of self. I now understand that listening is a gift, but it has to be given, not expected or demanded. If someone listens with their eyes focused on their phone, you know you’re getting a percentage of their attention. However, if someone is looking you straight in the eye, you can see the understanding, the compassion, the empathy and the agony. There is a connection, an exchange of energy, of emotion, that needs no words at all. This is the key to being a good listener and also knowing when I’m in the company of one; I know I’m being heard. I know they are making space for me and my troubles, my victories and my dark nights, too. I don’t expect them to fix me or give me any answers, I just want to be able to speak those words and give wings to those fluttering feelings deep in the pit of my stomach. I want to free myself from the anxiety that unanswered questions and mental Ferris wheels bring, nights of thoughts twisting upon themselves like Celtic nightmare knots. Bring light to the darkness, certainty to doubts and love to banish fear.