I still don’t know how to listen.
Some stories are woven in below.
The Tale Wagged
In my first job (English professsor) and my second (pastor), people thought I might have answers to their problems. As they confided in me, I’d look inside myself for an experience similar to theirs, so as to empathize. It may have helped me be a better listener slightly, but soon I noticed that whenever I said, (or even thought) “I know just how you feel,” I’d soon see I really didn’t. And if I heard myself thinking, “I don’t feel that way,” in seconds I was saying (or at least feeling) “And I don’t think you should feel that way either!” My empathy wasn’t very solid.
In a second stage, I assumed somebody’s uniqueness required much closer attention on my part, more questions. People love to tell their story, of course, so, when I asked more questions, some might say , “You’re such a good listener!” That was nice. Asking questions had helped me shift the focus away from myself. Or so I thought. Sometimes I saw that I was manipulating people to enjoy my “presence,” even give me compliments. It felt sort of “sticky;” I definitely wanted them to think well of me. And that distorted the time together, whether they knew it or not.
In a third stage, I could sometimes let that expectation go, and a new kind of attention toward others began to appear. If I listened to their story, but didn’t look for connections to my story, when I could let their story just exist on its own, they would explore it in more detail. I was seeking, with them, to learn their “Big Story” as I listened to them, but a part of me (call it the Ego) seemed to disappear from my field of view.
A kind of space opened up between us. They seemed to sense that the source of this care was not my personality. When we separated, I sensed in them a little less gratitude toward me, and sometimes, (I hoped) more ease in them toward their own experience of God, Spirit, the Universe, whatever names they used.
We’d part without big emotional stuff, kind of nodding our heads in a thoughtful way, as if to say, “Hmmm. Yeah. More to learn, but this was good. Hmmm.”
A little more healthy.