Listen to Connect

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

When you see the doctor, how long can you speak before being interrupted?  How long can someone speak to you before you interrupt them?  What kind of listening is happening in these situations? What do these disruptions do to the flow of conversation?  Of relationship?

This post took off as a call to Always Seek Stories, then Find All of the Stories, then Listen More Deeply, and then Listen to Understand, before finally landing on connection—it’s where I always land, isn’t it?  What am I after here, what is the bottom line?  I really just want us all to truly hear one another.  Right now we declare, opine, profess, criticize, and judge far too often.  We filter our inputs through bias, anger, tribalism, and passion; we meet others with guard up and weapons drawn, ready for a fight.  What we need from each other is to sit down, shut up, and listen.

It can be exhausting, though.  Because to really listen deeply and hear, often what is not being said, is a master practice in slow, patient presence—in self-control and regulation.  It is a quintessential requirement of true empathy and friendship, to put our own concerns and inner chatter aside and open fully to another person’s experiences and expressions—especially the subtle ones.  Is this even in our nature?  Perhaps it was when life was much simpler—when all we had was each other and nature, and survival was only and ever about just being, whether alone or together, doing or resting—when tribal life had fewer layers and levels, and our attention had only a fraction of the distractions we have today?  Back then, individual survival depended fundamentally on survival of the group, so interpersonal cohesion and cooperation was literally a matter of life and death.  One could argue the same is still true; we are still humans, an innately social species.  But it seems, at least in the United States, we increasingly see our own individual survival as threatened by people around us (especially people whom we perceive as different in any way) rather than sustained.

Mom and son plan her move from the home he grew up in to assisted living.  He will drive in from another state for the big day.  She declares (demands?) that he should come a day earlier than they agreed, but does not say why.  He feels impatient and tells her no.  Wife asks husband to help her move a new rug to its final position on the floor—tonight, please.  He says no, it’s not flat enough yet, and it will take too much time.  What are the deeper requests and needs beneath each of these appeals and rebuffs?  My friend is the son; I am the wife.  We reflected together recently on what our loved ones may have felt that they did not say, what lenses we each wore in these conversations, and how they filtered (and/or distorted) our responses.  He may go earlier to help ease mom’s anxiety about a big life transition; Hubs and I moved the rug after I explained that I wanted our houseguest to feel more comfortable.

Listening to connect means more than attuning to other people.  It includes monitoring and studying our own inner ‘weather report’, as I read it described somewhere.  If I’m feeling cloudy with a chance of lightening, that may distort my perception of whatever enters my atmosphere, compared to when I’m sunny.  If I listen and hear myself first, I can calibrate my inputs as well as outputs.  I may decide to steer clear of storms I see brewing in others, until my own ether is less reactive. 

By tuning my own strings, I can play better harmonies more nimbly.  I feel confident in my ability to attune to others; I can drop wholeheartedly into the movement of melodious exchange, in resonance with other instruments in the orchestra.  When I relax into simultaneous presence to self and other, I narrow the distance between us.  We become one in collective, each individual contributing something unique, independent, and inextricable at the same time.

Thanks for following along this past week, friends!  Hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I’m enjoying writing them!

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