A few weeks ago I wrote to you about the power of listening to each other. This week I’d like to dive more deeply into how to navigate the multifaceted ways of listening, being listened to, or being ignored on a human level. You see, listening to others, I think, is one of my superpowers. Not being listened to is part of my shadow work and I can quickly see red become quite an unpleasant person to deal with if I don’t catch it. Basically, I have some great life experiences on both sides of listening that bring value to my life and I hope to bring value to yours.
Backing up and starting at the beginning I would love to say that listening to others is part of my nature. The truth is it would be impossible to know if I’m a good listener by nature because I watched my own dad from a young age do this across all walks of life. If you haven’t met my dad, you will know it’s his nature, because his family of origin does not possess this gift. Quite the opposite in fact. My dad owned a farm market throughout my childhood and I spent countless hours at his ankles as he met farmers, employees, and community members.
Really Listening to Others
When my dad meets a person something special happens, no matter how busy he is my dad stops what he’s doing to truly listen to how the other person is. This carried him well as a business owner but it was in his retirement I truly saw his gift for listening when he met my son Dametrius all those years ago. My dad started a community garden in the Hilltop (inner city) of Columbus to teach children to garden and provide food for the community. My son was four years old at the time and lived in the house next door. In meeting Dametrius, a young bi-racial boy without much more than the clothes on his back my dad did it again; he listened. In his listening, he found that Dametrius’s mom was sick, in listening he heard their family needed help, and from helping my son all those years ago built an incredible friendship that allowed me to become his second mom. A friendship that was not only with Dametrius but to the community of the hilltop. Each and every person on the hilltop was (and is) equal in my dad’s eyes and to this day he will give the clothes off his back to anyone in need. My dad is a walking example of the beauty that treating people equally can create and how listening creates connection.
Back to me (tada!), You can see that I had an incredible role model in listening and so when it came naturally to me I followed it. At first, I followed listening into my career and helping individuals with disabilities and autism as I’ve written to you about in the past. I’m embarrassed it wasn’t until I left my marriage that I truly started to learn to listen to my own soul. I was so fixated on helping people to repair my own wounds that I didn’t stop to listen to myself. At least not on the level that my soul truly needed.
At the time that I was divorcing both my home life and the world were falling apart with COVID. As my worlds fell apart I learned the hard way (yes mom I know) that listening isn’t a gift that everyone has much less even a desire. I was naive at the time and thought that listening to others was something everyone did just like Dad and me.
Finding Someone to Listen to You
In the months following my separation I was met with my entire extended family, lawyers, a guardian, and the legal system not listening to me. As I recanted my experience inside my marriage and the help I needed for myself and my sons, shoulder after shoulder turned away from me. For the family that I lost at first I felt betrayed, then heartbroken, and finally accepted the loss for what it was and grieved. To the lawyers, I switched to time and time again (five to be exact) until I finally found a lawyer that listened. It was through this painful process that I learned to witness the aftermath of not being listened to. Not only in outcomes but in my own reactions.
In a world that seems to be stuck in dysfunctional, and at times oppressive, systems, listening to our fellow humans is a lost art. In knowing how deeply impactful listening is, it turns out I not only see red but become a very demanding, persistent person, when I feel I am not being listened to. It was just this past week, through an experience at my son’s school, that I finally realized exactly how I slip into a controlling narrative. Turns out I become controlling when I’m not being listened to. Knowing this will help me refrain from trying to control outcomes and instead ask the simple question, “why aren’t you listening to me?”.
You see I’ve come to learn that not everything turns out the way you want it to and that control is something we (ok I) desperately want but never really had to begin with. We can’t always change the outcomes into our own perfect story or get what we want. There are billions of us on earth so I can begrudgingly put down the need to control (again, and again, and again). This would however be much simpler if we were first heard, and then were asked to put down control. In writing this I very much doubt I am the only person who struggles with control when they do not feel heard.
Being heard is the key because when a person is struggling, what I learned from my wise father is they have a story to tell. In that story might be a gift, a lesson, a kindness, and often is a need not met. If you spend the time listening, you can learn the needs of others, if you learn the needs of others you find that they aren’t much different than yours. That we are all more similar than different.
So how do you struggle, when are you not your best self, who is not listening to you?
What my darling do you have to say? Perhaps today, pour a cup of coffee (or wine), find a trusted companion, and start to share.