“not everyone’s a therapists” — or how we listen

I think I forget this. often.

Possible reasons why this occurs:

  1. I am surrounded by therapists-in-training, therapists, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists at least 50% of my waking hours (which is probably a grave underestimation);
  2. I have been either learning, observing, doing, or supervising therapy for the past 4 years of my life (again, probably an underguesstimation; my friends, it seriously feels like I’ve been doing this foreeeever. add in the fact that most of it has been unpaid, it’s more like foreeeeever x 2); and
  3. (which is the big one folks, get ready): I assume (rightly, wrongly, naively) that all people are well-meaning, compassionate, empathic individuals who actively listen and care for what the other is bringing to them more so than for their own preoccupations, in the least for the duration of that moment

Given these things, it is sometimes disheartening when interactions don’t confirm the final statement. sort of takes away from my happy.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

What seems to be happening lately (and I say lately mostly because I don’t know if it just didn’t occur before or if I was just unaware of the content as I am about to complain write about) is this game of “my crappy is crappier than your crappy” or “my happy is happier than your happy.” I usually never ask anything of others, but here, I am. I want you to take notice of the content of conversations. Most conversations entail two people talking about themselves, trying to one-up the other, seemingly unaware of the other, hearing but not listening . Let’s look at an example:

Sally: Man, I’ve had such a shitty day.

Jesse: Dude, me too! I couldn’t sleep last night and had to be up early for work.

Sally: Yeah, I got like 3 hours of sleep. I’m tired homie.

Jesse: Yeah, and I still have to go run errands after I get off work.

Sound familiar? What do you notice? ..aside from the fact that I may be one of the last people to use the words “homie” and “dude” to refer to others, I notice that this interaction is pretty common. Neither individual actually listens. Neither individual appears concerned about the reason behind the lack of sleep or shitty day. Neither seems to care. I’m not holding any judgment here, Sally and Jesse seem like good people. But what happens when one of them actually wants to talk and for another to listen? I think many of us want that person we can vent to. the person we call up/meet up/take up in moments of overwhelming uncertainty or even in moments of daily frustrations. Part of our happy might be just that, to remove whatever negative moments detract from bliss by sharing it with others. Given my profession, I kinda get it. I get it a lot. I think that’s where the frustration/disappointment/sadness comes in. I’m usually on the receiving end of these interactions, mostly because I want to be; it’s where I’m at my best. But also, part of it may because I can or I know how to be in these situations, it’s natural for me to facilitate, to help people feel that I care because I actually do. Speaking globally, expecting someone to do the same for me has yielded disheartening results.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” ― Ralph G. Nichols

What I need to remember is that not everyone does. get it, that is. Not everyone is going to want to be that person you vent to. Or understand how to actively listen in place of the usual superficial mechanical hearing that we often do. Or pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues that hint for further inquiry. Or feel what the other is feeling, no matter how painful. Not everyone’s a therapist. Learning to actively listen and not just hear takes time. and effort. and practice. and, not everyone’s good at it, and that’s okay.

I guess what I’m starting to realize is that not everyone’s as well meaning as I previously thought. scratch that. I think what I’m actually learning is that not everyone is willing, or perhaps ready to put the problems of others ahead of their own, to listen instead of just hear what the other is saying, even if just for the duration of a moment..

“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.”
(attr to J. Isham)

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