We were given – by God – two ears and one mouth….. maybe its time to shut up and listen??
A few weeks ago when Danny was speaking with COTA I had the opportunity to be be a listener. It was Danny who was telling our story….. it was Danny folk’s wanted to talk with ….. and it was Danny who had come ready to share. Being the chatty outgoing one of our couple, it was a little strange to not be the speaker, but pretty quickly I realized this was actually a perfect chance to practice listening. If we hope to share our story, learn the story of others, and provide an opportunity for people to feel comfortable connecting, we are going to need to focus not just on talking but also on listening.
During this little experiment I found the times most challenging to stop and listen is when hearing the experiences of other transplant patients. While they are sharing, the tendency is to jump right in with “Danny takes that medication” or “that is exactly what happened to us”. It was funny, I first realized this reaction in others. One caregiver pointed out how Danny might be taking his medication incorrectly, because their double lung transplant patient is on that regiment too – but doesn’t feel as yucky. Later when I was listening to another patient’s surgery retell I had to literally bite my tongue and ask myself – “are you listening?” or was I focusing on what I wanted to say about our surgery day?
Other times I was almost knocked over with the honest reactions to Danny sharing the hard parts of his journey. One person even said how they felt he may not be grateful enough. In those moments I immediately went to focus on how their words made me feel, what I should have said, and I wanted to give in to the anger that came from my protective side of Danny. Until again, I stopped and listened – realizing they were reeling from their own struggles. And now that I think back on it, I understand they weren’t speaking about us at all….they were stuck behind their own pain. In the moment though, it was incredibly hard to stop the reeling of emotions and trade it for an open mind and heart that is prepared to listen.
In this instance the families, these caregivers, these humans are struggling through an experience that not many can relate to. It is rare for them to come across someone who can actually comprehend what it is they are going through. Moment such as these provide an environment where they can share about their own experience with more depth and clarity, and potentially be understood. Illness is a lonely existence – and not just for the patient – so when you are presented an opportunity for community, your like a little kid with a new toy: you grasp on and sometimes hold on a little to tight.
Sure that makes sense, but what about the need to dissect another patient’s treatment plan or approach? How can you be critical of what another person may have felt? Because its what we do. Again, the life of illness can be so overpowering you might even lose a sense of boundaries when sharing. You are so desperate to be understood, or maybe share something that helped, or validate what you are doing, it can come across as extremely aggressive or even as a criticism. This can make for some super awkward interactions and if your not careful end in an offensive situation.
The reality is this has happened for as long as we have ben involved with the CF Foundation and I suspect will continue to be something we expeirence if we choose to get out of our comfort zone and share. So what is the cure, shut up and listen. When you can step out of a scene and actually take it all in, you will see so much of what happened is just the result of someone wanting to be heard or hoping to connect. Since having that realization, I have started to wonder: what would happen in other parts of my life if I chose to just shut up and listen?
In so many ways this is completely opposite of our human side or what the world is telling us to do. Every where you look we are encouraged to speak up, stand out, be us by being loud and proud. Don’t get me wrong – I think we all should be ourselves and clearly I see the incredible value in sharing our stories. The part that I am starting to really dive into is if we are so busy sharing our story, are we taking any time to listen to others’ stories? How many moments of misunderstanding at home or the office would be completely different if we slowed down and really listened? Would others feel so much more validated, that perhaps their comments would not lead to aggressive or even offensive interactions because they will have felt heard? Or will you be better able to provide a connection, or make your own because you have let go of your own thoughts and opened yourself up to others?
Over the past few weeks I have spent time thinking about listening. It is a powerful tool and has the ability to literally change a whole situation. And you know what have come up with?? I am TERRIBLE at it. Yup… awful! When taking time to actively observe my own listening skills what I am finding is that I need a lot more practice. When Danny is asking a question, I am so often quick to defend myself from what I think he is saying, I might jump to a response that was no where close to where he was going…. if I had let him finish the actual thought. At work, I am so eager to connect with my counterpoint, I talk over her constantly, and likely miss some important details she is trying to share. With my family, I find myself reverting back to previous situations that I assume are repeating themselves, so I don’t take the chance to be present and instead roll my eyes that we continue to practice the same patterns. What am I missing out of life, because I am not listening? How could an interaction have gone completely differently? What opportunities to understand a loved one have I let pass me by? So I will be putting shut and listen at the top of my focus areas for awhile and wanted to invite you to do the same… we all have no ideas what we just might find!
Thank you so much for reading and remember to make it a great day!