Listen to this!

Listening to people, being fully present and open – it really is an art.  For me the challenge is usually finding a balance between emotional and intellectual understanding; a balance between caring about the person and caring about what the person is saying.  For example, yesterday I was listening to someone complain and complain, I mean she was really going on about anything and everything – from the lack of good quality ice cream available in stores these days to how long her kitchen renovation was taking. She appeared to me to be a deeply unhappy person. I could feel her pain, it was palpable, but the source of her pain was very unlikely a lack of good quality ice cream. So what is one to do? Was giving this individual my undivided attention helpful? (I know it was helping me – a good exercise in listening patience and body presence never hurt anyone, but was it helping her?) In response I found myself saying things like, ‘oh yes, oh I know – it’s terrible, although I suppose it could be worse.”

I could empathize with her emotional pain, which was very real, but found myself disregarding most of her words as unimportant ramblings. Was it beneficial to listen to her go on or was I simply reinforcing her habitual complaining tendencies? We do have a choice – to listen or not? Perhaps my attempt to formulate a general principle here is the real source of my dilemma. Real life is moment by moment, listen if you will, be honest, be sincerely engaged, pretend, lie, walk away – it’s up to you, decide and act! Listening to people – I suppose it will always be a work of art in progress. Anyway, thanks for listening to me go on about this . . .



  1. Maybe the only general principles that should be held are the precepts. The rest take as it arises. Seems like you did the right thing.

    Trying to remove the 'picking and choosing' it sound like you were there and she was speaking to you. That's what it was then. In another case it might be different.

    I don't know.

  2. Hi Lauren, good to see you again. Always having one foot in 'I don't know land' seems like a good general principle too. In this case I'm 'not knowing' along with you.

  3. G'day Tallis
    for what its worth, I believe intuitively one gets a feel about the underlying drivers of why a person talks about what they wish to talk about. Sometimes a person just wants to let off steam, or maybe just have a whinge, or just shoot the breeze about something. But sometimes there are deeper issues which comprimise quality of life or health.
    I dont think 'listening' is necessarily a skill or art one learns, but rather when there is clarity, it becomes more apparent where the person is coming from and so ones response follows accordingly.
    A big impediment in 'listening' is that so often folk are making value judgements about what the person is saying so the conversation backs and forths on why, or why not something should or shouldn't be happening. People are trying to solve the problem for the person, as opposed to the individual coming to a place where they themselves are comfortable with the situation.
    kind wishes, J