I didn’t know what to write about. I never know what to write about. I was determined to write while still on a caffeine high from my three shots of espresso latte. Instead I got in front of the computer screen and felt my brain turn to mush. That and the movie Ever After was on with my girl Drew Barrymore. I’m all about procrastination in it’s many forms. About an hour and a bacon sandwich later my heart went back to a normal rhythm and I was still stuck with a blank screen.
I was sitting at my kitchen table, playing with the cap to my water bottle, when I asked my dad what he would write about if he had to write something. He paused for a moment before answering. My guess was that he would say something about health due to the fact he is fighting off a cold, but he surprised me by saying, “listening. I would write about listening.” I like to think that I know a reasonable amount about what it takes to be a good listener, but my dad has a knack for taking a subject and introducing a new factor that you never consider. Or not even introducing a new factor, but rather reminding you of a basic lesson you have somehow forgotten, or a concept you’ve complicated.
He cleared his throat but his voice still rasped as if he had swallowed a handful of gravel. “Listening is about intent. People try to tell you something, but they are not always articulate, and you have to be patient in order to understand.” It is at this point where I interjected with the insightful tidbit, “read between the lines!!” He smiled, “exactly.” He talked about how there are so few who have the capacity to understand; that most people are stubborn and when you combine that with bad skills it’s a disaster. True listening is not cutting someone off to project what you think they want. It’s not nodding your head while you watch someone ramble. It’s asking questions. It’s giving people the tools they need so that in the future they don’t have to work as hard to make someone listen.
Maybe it is has something to do with it being election season but as my dad and I talked about listening, my mind went to all the minorities and people we, as a society, fail to listen to. Those who live in poverty, those who historically have been neglected are passed over as politicians make their way to ambitious goals. They forget how to listen. Or even scarier is that just don’t care about the message that is trying to be sent.
People sometimes forget how to use their voice, or their voice is twisted with fear and anger when it finally emerges. People sometimes take actions we don’t agree with when a lifetime is spent learning about how people don’t listen. We pay attention to the fear and the anger, not the intent. We spend a lifetime memorizing stereotypes so that when an opportunity arises we already possess a script. We cut those who speak in half with terms like, “criminals,” “users,” and “takers.” We have forgotten how to listen because why ask questions when my privilege has given me all the answers I’ll ever need to know.
I used to think I was a good listener but now I’m not really sure.