Truly Listening

I feel that most Americans engage in these polite conversations and just hope to get home before they see someone who actually wants to have a conversation.

A few weeks ago, I was in the grocery store and a man made a joke about the weather and before he even finished I was giving a polite smile and chuckle. I don’t remember what he said. I wasn’t fully listening and therefore retained nothing that he said. As I finished shopping I was trying to think of what the man had said to me and could not, and was ashamed of myself for not truly listening.

Since I was a young girl I have always made an effort to look into people’s eyes when they speak to me. I used to listen to what people said but somewhere along the way I became so self-absorbed that when shopping, with time to spare, I can’t even give a kind man 10 seconds of my time. What is happening to communication and relationships in our world?

A neighbor I once had was so overwhelmed and frustrated with the North American culture because life was too busy. She told me that if a friend asked her to coffee where she was from in Costa Rica that they would sit down that day to have coffee. Where we lived if someone said, “We should do coffee,” the other person would comment about their schedule and would eventually get back to them even if it was multiple weeks afterwards. If someone in our town asked how you were doing the proper response would be somewhere along the lines, “Good. You? Great! See you later.” I feel that most Americans engage in these polite conversations and just hope to get home before they see someone who actually wants to have a conversation.

When the topic of socialization and communication come up many people are quick to defend and say that they truly listen. I thought I truly listened, but I was in shock as I walked about the store not being able to think of anything that man said. Do we now as a society choose to only listen to the few selected to be part of our circle? What about the people who do not have a circle, who will listen to them?

In the news the past few weeks there have been the names of children Rosalie Avila(13) and Ashawnty Davis(10) who committed suicide because they were bullied. I believe that the parents did their jobs and listened and did all that they could do to encourage their babies to hold on but what about all the bystanders? What if I was working in their schools? If I walked past and asked them how they were doing, and they said fine would I hear the hurt tone behind the words? I am not saying it is any staff members fault because I do not know the whole story behind the two girls’ situations. When I heard these stories, my mind spun though. If people had not taken the time to truly listen to me when I was a young girl hurting myself I am sure I would not be alive right now. Some may think it is extreme to link passive listening and suicide, but I have felt alone. I have longed for one person, just one, to truly listen to me. Thank God, I was blessed with people in my life who stopped me and told me to open-up.

I met a woman a few months ago, Carly, when I was working at the coffee shop who was as sweet as can be. I had already been thinking about the topic of “truly listening” when we decided to go have dinner together, and I was floored by how she listened. Most of the time during conversations the listener nods, looks interested and makes noises to make you feel like they are listening. Carly asked me questions about my life and the stories I told her. When I jumped around in my stories (I tend to get off topic and then jump back again,), she made sure that she was following instead of just guessing what I was trying to say. I would mention names and a little into the story she would say something to the effect of, “That was ‘so and so’ right? And they were the one who….”

I went home that night after dinner perplexed and in wonder about how Carly listened. It was the first time in a long time where I had a conversation with someone other than my husband who actively listened and cared about what I had to say. I decided that night that I was going to work on truly listening to others. Whether it was a stranger in a grocery store, a child or an elder, or my sister; I am going to do my best to actively listen and retain all that is said. Maybe one day I will walk past a child who needs someone to actively listen to know people care. Maybe one day a stranger will become a friend. Maybe one day the world will care less about social media updates and more about the conversation at the coffee shop. I hope you are encouraged to truly listen and influence the social world around you.


** I had written part of this blog a few weeks ago after I had dinner with Carly and was tweaking it and waiting for the right time to post it. Carly died in a car accident yesterday morning. I did not know her as well as I wish I did. I was planning on texting her yesterday morning about baking Christmas cookies but kept putting it off throughout the day because I didn’t think time mattered. I thought there were plenty of days to get to know her better. She changed my life with her joy and listening. Hold your dear ones close and if you make a friend don’t hesitate to go get coffee and get to know one another even better.