Listening and watching the news is disheartening, or much worse – heartbreaking, and always seems to involve conflict. Pondering on this led me to writing my second post where I feature questions asked by Oprah. These particular questions from an article by Melanie Curtin really struck a chord. I know I say that a lot but it’s the truth. And I like that things strike a chord because it makes me think about my own behaviour. Yes, the behaviour of others can really suck but so can our own behaviour particularly when it comes to hearing what people say.
Did you hear me?
Did you see me?
Did what I say mean anything to you?
Oprah considers these questions important because they impact on finding solutions to conflict. Oprah is in a good position to comment on this subject. In interviews alone, she has spoken to almost 30,000 people and she says all of them had one thing in common. Validation. They all wanted validation and not the ego-stroking kind. These people didn’t want compliments, they wanted to be heard. What exactly does this mean?
Whether internally or externally, conflict comes from misunderstanding, a misunderstanding that occurs when we listen but don’t hear what others are saying. I added internally because we may listen to our internal dialogues, but we do not hear what is being said. That shutting down, that choice to listen but not hear, loses us friends, family and colleagues, and much worse, it loses something of ourselves.
When we feel seen and heard our nervous system relaxes. To someone with anxiety issues that moment of relaxation changes everything. With me, when I am able to express my fears, my doubts, my hurts, I find the energy to cope, to handle whatever needs handling. I am a strong personality but despite this you would be surprised how often I get shut down, and from the people closest to me. Why? Don’t forget we are talking about being heard, not listened to, and the difference is staggering, and don’t forget we too often don’t hear ourselves.
I think there are two reasons why this happens. The first is out of love, misguided but still love. If those closest see or hear vulnerability, then fear arises. They, the ones that love us don’t want to acknowledge the reality that the person they love is in trouble. It’s the same when our internal dialogue speaks up. We don’t want to know truths. It’s so much easier to hide behind the pretence that things are fine. In fact, “I’m fine” becomes a mantra. And sadly, there are some who simply see and hear only what they want to see and hear, a selfish trait but ingrained in their psyche. Our sense of self-preservation distorts our thinking.
Another article How to Change Your Life in One Second Flat, by Katherine Schafler (a NYC-based psychotherapist, writer and speaker) poses a similar set of questions.
Do you see me?
Do you care that I’m here?
Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way? Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
These added a deeper dimension, resonated more forcibly because it reinforced the idea that unheard, we doubt ourselves. Once we doubt, we dissolve, lose hope, absorb and feed the fear about our worth. We can’t afford to feel this way, we certainly can’t afford the disillusion and disappointment in those and from those we love. This could deliver a crushing blow, have us act in a manner that undermines our very soul. Consider romantic situations. When we think we are not heard we become distant, restless and seek out distractions, or worse, we appear to accept but instead we disconnect.
Look at the news and the terrible things people do. Does it happen because someone wasn’t listening? Is that why people make bad choices? Was there a time early in their lives when someone didn’t listen, didn’t hear them? Does desperation destroy rational thinking? Emotional withdrawal is insidious, creating the perfect environment for conflict to thrive. An inactive listener is not there emotionally and will miss what needs to be heard. I have a close family member that does this all the time and disguises it with over the top emotional spending and gestures. It breaks my heart.
Kathryn uses an interesting but simple example involving doing up your daughters’ shoelace. When “you’re done, you get up to reach for her packed lunch and hand it to her while you’re simultaneously grabbing your bag and keys, all without ever looking at her.” Have you done a similar thing in some way? I have. Do we really get that busy? When did we decide that it was acceptable to not be present?
Kathryn asks us to look at the behaviour of dogs. Those “furry little spiritual masters are always in the present moment, so their quality of connection is always heightened (subsequently, so is the level of palpable connection they emit).” They don’t know about questions, they only know to listen and hear you.
In looking at this topic I found myself thinking of our solar system. We have the sun and the planets, some with their moons, all distinct to our solar system. The sun has a big responsibility to maintain its connection to these other bodies, to keep them turning, moving, belonging. Taking the time to see, to hear is to value. We don’t need to meditate on this or even take courses (mind you those things are great). We do need however, to choose to be present every time someone we care for steps into our orbit.
Something to think about until next time
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Gotta love Oprah for making us think. The shoelace story ..so true.