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 . . .