Those of us who live in the United States have known it all along. It’s not a secret, exactly. It’s just something we don’t enjoy talking about. But now it’s fully exposed. On a global scale. Our “issues” went Viral, as a nation, on 6 January, 2021. The reasons behind the full-on insurrection at our Capitol building are complex and long-term. But one rioter’s rationale grabbed my attention in a more personal way. When offered a mic last Wednesday he spoke for many others, I’m sure. From a place of deep pain, it seemed. “What do you want us to do?? We’ve tried to get your attention! This [violence] is the only thing that works!” Even though I reject the man’s tactics, I felt his anguish, instantly. The need to be genuinely seen and heard in our world is no longer an ‘ask’, but a demand being made by those who’ve waited too long to feel validated.
There’s a centuries-old saying: “Desperate times call for desperate measures”. The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates was talking about radical cures for rampant disease when he said this. A lot of people died, apparently, from his experimental cures, but hey; he was under pressure to do something. Present day, I think of the times in my own life where I’ve tried, or been on the receiving end of, desperate-measures. Not feeling truly seen and heard, especially in moments of crisis, makes me crazy- emotional and sad. Not creating a space for others to feel heard brought a different kind of unhappiness and failure: especially in the workplace.
Near the end of my 10-year marriage, I remember a particular moment when I felt invisible, and desperate to not be. I was in the car with my husband. As some struggling couples do, we looked for distraction. We hoped a short road trip would make us feel better. But as I sat in the passenger seat I lost it. I began silently crying, knowing we were at The End. Still, I believe to this day that if my husband had pulled the car over, looked into my eyes and tried to engage, it would have made a difference. Instead, he ignored my meltdown. He kept driving, and wanted to know where I wanted to stop for lunch. It’s what we often do: pretend the worst isn’t happening.
In the workplace as a “boss”, I reflect back on the many times I did pretty much the same thing: project indifference to what was happening right in front of me. I catch myself, these days, but was not so self-aware back then. When my employees sought my time and attention, my mind often jumped ahead to pre-planned answers even while they talked. A lot of the time I didn’t hear, because I didn’t really listen. I didn’t want to; didn’t feel that I needed to. (Having all the answers myself. Yeah, right.)
We’ve all heard or read about the importance of Active Listening, especially in close relationships – personal or work. It takes effort. It takes patience. It really can’t be faked because the signals are so clear when we’re not being heard. Because that instantly telegraphs to us, “What you have to say doesn’t matter”. Hurtful. Frustrating. And, as our nation is now consistently seeing, feeling and reeling-from, there’s often a stiff price to pay for not recognizing the inherent value of other people. They stop asking and start demanding. Or, they silently move away from you, just when you’ve realized how much you need them in your life.
These days, with social media and Covid in control of so many of my interactions, it feels easier to be an active listener in my face to face exchanges. Is it because I have a lot more time now; or because I’m so hungry for real-time contact? Is it because masked faces force legit eye-contact? All of the above, I think. Not long ago, the man who delivers my mail had to get out of his truck to bring a small box to my doorstep. I happened to be home – baking, per usual. Both of us offered the standard “Hi, howareyou?” through our masks. But then he lingered. He wanted to know if I was satisfied with his service – or if, like a lot of other people – I was mad at the U.S. Postal Service. (Slow delivery, mistakes, postal boxes getting ‘jacked’). Clearly, the complaints had gotten to him. He wanted and needed to be heard in that moment.
These days, whenever I get such an opportunity to just listen…to show another human being that I actually hear and understand what they want or need to say, I’m eager to help. Will this new-found patience and interest fade when ‘normal’ life returns? I hope not. I’ll commit even further and say “No, it won’t.” Because the power to change a life through the words or actions that communicate I Hear You is something that I never should have underestimated in the first place.
How to Practice Active Listening: http://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-active-listening