When I was a youngster, my father came home from work one day very distraught. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that today he had received news that a beautiful young woman he had worked with had committed suicide. My father was devastated. He wondered how this charming, smiling, pleasant woman, whom he had just shared an elevator with a few days before, could have been hurting and suffering so intensely to have taken her own life. Those who knew her and worked with her were left to ask why? Why didn’t they know how deeply this human soul was hurting? Like so many who go through life in deep despair, perhaps she was a master at hiding her true feelings, putting on a brave front to all those who knew her. I can’t begin to imagine the quiet hell this woman must have been going through on a daily basis where she felt her only relief was to end it all. Such a tragedy.
How many of us have been stunned by the news of someone we knew taking their life because we had no idea that person was in such despair and pain?
It’s not always easy to recognize someone who is fighting internal demons that cause depression and suffering, but we can express basic love and concern for others if we merely learn to “love by listening” to what another human being is trying to tell us through words, through feelings and through actions.
We live in a society where everybody talks, but few listen. Listening to one another, truly listening, without distraction, is surely a lost art. Yet, the world is filled with people, some more desperate than others, who are literally crying out for someone to hear them, really hear them! This is a desperate and basic need; children have it, young people have it and adults have it.
We need people who are not quick and ready with their easy answers, their hasty advice, their arguments, their exhortations. We need people who will listen long enough to another person to give that person time to begin clarifying his/her thoughts and working out his/her solutions. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes it will take longer and perhaps require specialized help. But, if nothing else, the person to whom you have listened to intently and emphatically will know that you are on his or her side because you cared enough to hear that person out; and that takes time. But, when that happens, love has found expression.
Listening with the heart
This kind of listening is emphatic listening. It is the attempt to listen fully to what the person is saying with words, with feelings and with body language. It goes into the depths of the person. It hears between the lines. It attempts to stand where that person is standing, to see a situation from that person’s point of view.
This is not easy listening. It is hard, it requires concentration and it requires patience. It is listening with our total selves to the spoken and unspoken needs of another. It is the kind of listening our world needs so very much.
The following letter appeared in the Kansas City Star several years ago. It concerns a teenager and his parents. But, the lesson is universal.
Thank you for everything, but I am going to Chicago to try and start some kind of life. You asked me why I did the things I did and why I caused you so much trouble, and the answer is so easy for me to give you, but I wonder if you will understand.
Remember when I was about six or seven years old and I used to want you to just listen to me? I remember all the nice things you gave me for Christmas and my birthday, and I was really happy with those things for about a week, but the rest of the time during the year I really didn’t want presents. I just wanted all the time for you to listen to me like I was somebody who felt things too, because I remember when I was young I felt things. But you said you were busy.
Mom, you are a wonderful cook and you made everything so clean, but you were so tired from doing all those things that made you busy, but you know something Mom? I would have liked crackers and peanut butter just as well – if you had only sat down with me a little during the day and said to me, “Tell me all about it so I can maybe help you understand.”
And when Donna came along, I couldn’t understand all the fuss over her curly hair and white teeth. She didn’t have to wear glasses with thick lenses and her grades were better too, weren’t they?
If Donna ever has children I hope you tell her to just pay some attention to the one that doesn’t smile very much because that one will really be crying inside. And make sure you tell her to pay attention when her children wants to tell her about their dreams, their hopes or something, because thoughts are important to small kids even though they don’t have so many words to use when they tell about what they have inside them.
I think that all the kids who are doing so many things that grownups are tearing their hair out worrying about, are really looking for somebody that will have time to listen to them for a few minutes.
If anybody asks you where I am, tell them I have gone looking for somebody with time to listen because I’ve got a lot of things I want to talk about. Love to all.
Taking time to listen to another, really listen… it is an expression love.