I am finding more and more, at this nearing-the-middle stage of life, the value of listening. The importance of being present whilst in conversation. It’s no easy feat, the brain anxiously jumping from one thought to the next, often without any direction from our conscious self. “What time is it? Am I late? Are they talking about me? What’s that sound? My pants don’t fit right. Ugh! I don’t wanna go to that thing tonight. I gotta check on that meeting. Must do laundry! Did I remember to get milk at the store?” buzzing through your mind when someone is telling you about their day or dream or plans or whatever. It takes considerable effort, it seems, to actively listen and to be present. We often listen only to react or respond rather than to truly take in not just the words but the sentiment or feeling being conveyed in conversation. We miss so much as a result.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between reacting and responding. I recently shared the concept/definition of gaslighting with a coworker and it blew her mind! (I especially love this article on the topic as it blew my mind when I read it last year.) How often do others approach us with the intent of getting a rise out of us or an immediate reaction? How often would it be better for all involved to pause a moment and to ponder before providing a response? Many who use gaslighting tactics are not aware of their manipulative actions but instead feel justified in their emotional appeals. It may seem surprising, but when revisiting my own past experiences with this new lens of perception, I can clearly see how many of these tactics have become social norms that even I have used without realizing.
Much miscommunication can be attributed to not being fully present or even because of modern technology as preferred method of communication. We miss out on body language and cues! What a loss!!! How many times has a text message left you wondering at someone’s intended sincerity or snark? Eye contact is huge! I have an odd sense of humor, I’d say, and so being in someone’s company physically can often help whatever absurdity or pun I’m attempting to convey.
I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying reading Jane Austen lately. I snagged a great deal on Amazon with 8 of her works for 99 cents (total) for the kindle versions. I’m halfway through Pride & Prejudice and just finished Sense & Sensibility last week. The formalities and restrictions of that era are entertaining, but I must admit to feeling a minor sense of longing for the skills and art of conversation as it was then. It was deemed of the utmost importance to improve oneself in order to be received as good company or society (lets not get into the whole “good breeding” and “fortunes” and whatnot LOL) or to be invited to social gatherings as such. As for my reading Jane Austen, well, I’d read Northanger Abbey years ago and when I saw the great price I thought I may as well dive right on in! Ha!
How different conversation is now! It’s no longer enjoyed as an art, in and of itself, but merely a burden for many to struggle through in order to not appear rude. I used to consider it a curse when so many strangers would tell me the oddest things about themselves out of nowhere. Once while in line at a deli, the woman behind me told me her entire medical history, unprompted. Now I see it more as a chance for human connection and often that’s all it’s really about. We all just wanna be heard, sometimes it doesn’t even matter by whom! We’ve all felt unseen or ignored, to reach out in order to relate can feel more meaningful than even the trivial subject matter at hand.
In a past career, in the corporate world, I was a big fan of this customer service video called “Give ‘Em The Pickle”. There was a part where Mr. Farrell told a story about a new server he had hired who seemed to only make her life harder by having a bad attitude about customers. He appealed to her, in order to improve things for all involved, to greet customers when she met them and upon making eye contact saying in her head “I Like You” and smiling. Within an hour everyone saw a difference! I think this works in life as well. Certainly we are not all meant to like everyone, but it helps especially when you’re feeling anxious or awkward or are afraid people won’t like you. It helps me be a more attentive listener when I’m uncertain about my own shit or my relationship with that person.
I think our own motives often get in the way of connecting with others. We see others as being “in my way” or “taking up my time” without thinking about that other person’s perspective or intentions. I once asked a friend with some road rage (Love ya P!) “Where are you in such a hurry to get to? Aren’t we just going back to yours to watch t.v.?” he insisted it didn’t matter that we had no immediate deadline, he wanted to get where he was going unhindered and “EVERYONE NEEDS TO GET THE HELL OUTTA MY WAY!” Ha-ha! I always laugh when I think about that one! Hilarious!
I really wish communication techniques were taught from the very beginning of our schooling. Just think how much better things could be if it was just ingrained and a part of our normal socializing?! I spent so much of my life hiding/shrinking/mute in fear of all the things! I still fight those feelings occasionally. When I do have those feelings creep up again I try to push them out of my mind and remind myself that we’re all humans and deserve equal space and voice in life. Ha-ha! Sometimes it’s more of a stubborn internal argument while I’m on the train. I had a man-spreader sit beside me and it was just a big ole NOPE! Like, c’mon, dude! My fat ass and thighs aren’t giving way to nobody! Least of all, you, man-spreader! Ha-ha!
Truly, listening and being present for folks is so rewarding. In my new job (it still feels new, mostly), I have found people gravitate towards me because I have encouraged more than the typical “Good morning” routine. I have found friendship and connection with some so quickly that I hesitate because it seems scary to be so vulnerable, but it was actually the subject of vulnerability that bonded me with a coworker early on that has turned into a relationship that I look forward to coming to work to engage with. He recommended the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown and the rest is history! Ha-ha!
I hope that perhaps some of this post has been of use to you, if not gently thought provoking. I’m finding myself in a bit of an odd state of mind lately, and as my writing style dictates, I do not always have full command of what comes out of my fingertips these days. When something comes to mind I try to get it down into words before it leaves me, but I’m afraid that often means I’m writing less and less about fat things. If there is ever anything you’d particularly like for me to address or discuss, do please comment or email me about it, it would make my day!
Rad Fatty Love,
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