Fools take no delight in understanding, but only in displaying what they think. Proverbs 18:2
I chaperoned Jocelyn’s field trip to Beaver Brook Association a few weeks ago. The guide assigned to our group was wonderful. As she taught the kids about how Native Americans lived hundreds of years ago, she used fantastic techniques to get and keep their attention. Watching the dynamic between her and the kids, I was reminded of a lesson I learn, and then forget, a hundred times over.
The guide had those second graders completely engrossed. It was most obvious when she asked a question: hands would shoot into the air, hoping to be chosen to give the answer. But there were always a couple of kids who, jumping up and down, would just blurt out their thoughts. They weren’t trying to dominate the group; they were just excited thinking they knew the right answers.
After the fifth or sixth time this happened, it occurred to me that I do the same exact thing. I interrupt and dominate conversations all the time. I too get excited thinking I may have the right answer to someone else’s problem.
I continue to justify my interrupting behavior by thinking I’m showing my enthusiasm for what’s being said. I feel I’m affirming the speaker by agreeing with her, and sharing my same experience.
But the more I cross paths with good listeners, the more impressed and touched I am by their quiet presence, humility, sincerity, and wisdom. I want to be more like them.
Moreover, the older I get, the more I realize that what solves my problems won’t necessarily solve someone else’s. We’re all different with our own unique journeys and issues.
What matters most is how people feel. And since I’ve never walked in anyone else’s shoes, the kindest thing I can do is listen, really listen, without planning the next thing I’m going to say.
This is especially hard when it comes to my kids. First of all, I’ve been in such a “teaching” mode with them for so long, I want to turn everything they say into a life lesson. Second of all, if you’ve ever met my kids, you’d know they circle the airport five times before they land the plane. It’s a complete exercise in patience to hear them out, and to figure out what they’re actually trying to say.
But so be it. If that’s who they are, I need to honor that. Whatever their style, they deserve to be listened to, especially by me.
It’s in being truly listened to that we feel most understood. When we feel understood, we are affirmed and empowered.
And when we’re really struggling with something, more than suggestions on how to fix it, we need that affirmation and empowerment. That’s what gives us the insight and confidence to find the answers that most times are already inside of us.
Questions For Reflection:
* Do I listen well? Or do I interrupt to share my thoughts?
* Have I ever met someone who has deeply listened to me? How did that make me feel? Do I want to be that gift to others?