The Silence between the words.
Have you ever noticed that when someone starts to tell you a story, you are immediately reminded of something similar that happened to you? And without thinking you start to tell your story, not even noticing that the other person had not finished theirs. That is the ego talking. It comes from a desire to compete. You think you have a good story? Wait till you hear mine.
You may be missing an important opportunity, the chance to just be there for someone. It may have taken a lot for them to come and share with you. They may have really needed you to just listen. I heard the phrase ‘the power of listening’ the other day, and thought about how difficult it is to just listen.
We are taught in nursing to use therapeutic communication, the dialogue that we have with patients that can help in their healing. But if we have not learned to just be there, to allow them to verbalize their fears, we may shut them down. Unsolicited advice and meaningless clichés are not healing.
Think about your everyday conversations. Do you find yourself trying to fill the silence, handing out words of wisdom rather than just listening? Giving that other person the space to talk may be helping them more than you can know. I have been very lucky in my life to have friends who have just listened to me, and as I told my story I was able to put things in perspective, and see what I needed to do to change my life.
But we have to be careful with our own stories also. Sometimes we hide behind them, and use them as excuses not to live our lives. We are too busy, have too many commitments, could not possibly leave relationships, cannot change how we interact with our children, all because we have convinced ourselves that this is our story and we’re stuck with it.
Sometimes we hang on to stories that we should have put away a long time ago. And the stories trigger emotions that can actually harm you. Have you ever met grown people who are still blaming their parents, or a bad first marriage, or a stroke of bad luck many years ago for everything that is wrong in their lives today? We have to put those stories down, take our noses out of those old books, and look around us. Time for fresh opportunities.
Now you know I love a good story, and I love to tell a story. But sometimes you have to be really quiet to hear the silence between the words, to hear the emotion that really needs to be acknowledged. I have a bad habit of thinking I know the ending of another person’s story, and impatiently I want to jump to that end. I have had to see that I am missing the actual point to the story. A story that started out with jokes may be covering up some pain and suffering that needs to be aired.
Then there are those stories that should be shut down. We have a tendency to want to hear salacious, juicy gossip. We listen with glee to a story that puts another person in a bad light, especially if we don’t really care for that person. Office gossip can help to entertain us on a slow day at work. But couldn’t we stop the story teller, quiet the unkind words, discourage the escalation of a tale? This week the news has been full of the word ‘scandal’. Is it used appropriately? Will the facts reveal true scandals? Or are there people who thrive on hyperbole, a desire to create drama.
Once you give something a label, you plant a seed that takes on a life of its own. We do that in our own lives also. When we retell someone else’s story, we may change the tone for impact, we may exaggerate the bad and downplay the good, and in so doing cause harm.
So on this Friday let us try to be better listeners. Let us be present for others, and offer our own stories in a spirit of giving, not of ego. Let us pause before we talk, and think whether we really need to say something negative about another person. Let us listen to the news judiciously, and try to consider all sides of an issue before we rush to judgment. We are all guilty of messing up from time to time. In acknowledging that we are all human we give each other room to grow.
On this wonderful Friday morning, let us see if we can practice listening. I must share with my wider audience the fact that my co-workers also read my messages, and at times have (with a little smile on their face) reminded me of my words. So I will not be surprised today if someone raises their eyebrows at me as if to say: Practice what you preach!
Have a great Friday, and a peaceful and happy weekend Family!