These days there is a lot of noise—everyone has a soapbox—but I wonder how much is really heard. This article explores the problem of autobiographical listening, listening with the hope of injecting a story about yourself into the mix. There are levels to this. The matcher, who always has a similar vacation or achievement to switch the conversation to. The topper who has an even better vacation or achievement to turn the conversation to. And the outright conversation narcissist where really all parts of the conversation somehow turn on him.
But if our goal is connection, we really need to learn how to better listen:
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Practice listening to understand. Avoid autobiographical listening:
“When we fail to listen from the other person’s perspective, we are listening through our own lens and tend to pass more judgments compared to simply listening,” Reigstad added. “There are four types of autobiographical listening ― evaluate, probe, advise and interpret. These responses tend to have us asking questions based on our experiences, offering advice to fix the problem and so on. It’s important to resist the urge and allow the other person to speak.”
Today, I want to lift up the caregivers. Whether for an aging parent, ailing spouse, struggling child, or young grandchildren, or all or some of these together. It takes a good person to care and do their best to help.
Rosalyn Carter made this insight:
There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers. And those who will need a caregiver.
We are all interconnected. We all will experience a time when we need help and times when we can offer help. It is a blessing to care about others and to let others care for us. Caring is at the heart of every good thing done in the world.
So, to the caregivers: may God bless you. Your work is making a better world.
Have you ever wished you could erase someone or something from your mind? That you could go back to that time when you hadn’t messed up or been hurt? We long for that before, don’t we? We hold on to the anger or regret because we miss that before so much, that innocent time before something wounded us or before we wounded someone else.
But holding that emotion grounds us in the past and our wounds don’t heal, but fester. It happened. We can’t erase it or take it back. We need to acknowledge that bad stuff happens, sometimes stuff we do ourselves, and move on, forgiving ourselves and others, into the future we have in front of us now rather than longing for the future we had in front of us before.
This, right here, right now, is what your life is. The future in front of you is built on all the things that have happened to you and things you have done up to this point, even the bad things.
Step into that future, let go of the past, and be the best you you can be.
Do you have any difficult people in your life? Chances are you can’t force them to be less toxic, but there are steps you can take to be less bothered by the encounter. In this article by Christine Carter, she suggests, among other things, that showing mercy to this difficult person will rebound to you:
Anne Lamott defines mercy as radical kindness bolstered by forgiveness, and it allows us to alter a communication dynamic, even when we are interacting with someone mired in anger or fear or jealousy. We do this by offering them a gift from our heart. You probably won’t be able to get rid of your negative thoughts about them, and you won’t be able to change them, but you can make an effort to be a loving person. Can you buy them a cup of coffee? Can you hold space for their suffering? Can you send a loving-kindness meditation their way?
Forgiveness takes this kindness to a whole new level. I used to think I couldn’t really forgive someone who’d hurt me until they’d asked for forgiveness, preferably in the form of a moving and remorseful apology letter.
But I’ve learned that to heal ourselves we must forgive whether or not we’re asked for forgiveness, and whether or not the person is still hurting us. When we do, we feel happier and more peaceful. This means that you might need to forgive the other person at the end of every day—or, on bad days, every hour. Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, not a one-time deal.
When we find ways to show mercy to even the person who has cost us sleep and love and even our well-being, something miraculous happens. “When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves,” Anne Lamott writes, “we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp.”
Here’s the real miracle: Our mercy boomerangs back to us. When we show radical kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance—and when we tell the truth in even the most difficult relationship—we start to show ourselves those things. We realize that we can love and forgive and accept even the most terrible aspects of our own being, even if it is only for a moment. We start to show ourselvesthe truth, and this makes us feel free.
Perhaps you can show that difficult person mercy today.
We can’t choose everything in life, but we can choose what kind of person we want to be.
As we deal with storms across the country and unprecedented blizzard watches here in Southern California, consider the importance of rain. Rain can be like encouragement, bringing nourishment and rebirth to dry parched land. It can promote an abundance of life and energy.
But, in excess, rain can cause flooding and landslides. It can sweep people away into rushing water and leave the landscape devastated.
Our words have the same power. We can be supportive and encouraging, fostering life and vitality in those we engage with. Or we can be harsh and critical, pessimistic and judgmental. Our words can both heal and wound. Our choice.
We can choose to be encouraging and supportive, rather than bleak and pessimistic.
We can avoid being the person who rains on someone else’s parade.
It’s startling to hear something you’ve shared with someone in confidence being talked about elsewhere. It makes you feel so exposed, but, more important, it undermines trust in the relationship. Perhaps keeping secrets isn’t possible, and Ben Franklin was right when he said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
But, just maybe, people should try harder to be worthy of trust. Brené Brown talks about the important elements of trust, to the acronym BRAVING:
Boundaries Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why
Reliability You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
Accountability You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
Vault You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
Integrity Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them.
Nonjudgment I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
Generosity Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
It is important to learn which stories are yours to share, to leave the decision whether to share in the hands of the person who owns the story, and to be a safe place for your friend to come. We all need friends; let’s be good ones.
How often do we give others the benefit of the doubt? Do we assume the innocent explanation or conclude the worst? Are we patient, or do we pounce at the very first mistake someone makes in trying to get their thoughts out? Do we search for the best in others, or do we protect ourselves in advance about the damage we fear may be inevitable by opening our hearts to trusting someone again?
Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a world where everyone gave everyone else the benefit of the doubt? Where perceived offenses weren’t allowed to fester and grow? Where there was trust?
Consider this beautiful poem on friendship by Dinah Maria Craik. Isn’t this how we would like to make each other feel?
by Dinah Maria Craik
Oh, the comfort —
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
What do we regret most as we contemplate the end of our time here? Maybe the lesson from that regret can inform our present. In an outstanding commencement speech, George Saunders reflects on his own failures and encourages the graduating students to look for opportunities to be kind. He reflects on a memory haunting him from his childhood:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.
End of story.
Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still. It bothers me.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
We all have so many opportunities to make a difference, just by simply being kind, offering a smile, reaching out in friendship. And, when we reflect on the kindnesses that have made the difference to each of us in our own lives, we realize those little shows of kindness are what matter.
Saunders continues to remind each of us that our inner selves, our souls, shine as brightly as ever, and, even as we strive for success, to keep checking in with that inner place, and to believe it exists and greet the world from there:
Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
When you are confronted with a choice, err in the direction of kindness.
Some of my friends and I are noticing our interests shift these days. This tweet sums up the phenomenon perfectly.
And it’s not just birds, but the weather, the garden, the laugh of a child. The little moments bear a new luster. And of course it makes sense. As our lives are rushing by in our younger years, the little things can get lost. We always will have the time to stop and look, to smell the roses, we reason, so we put it off. But as we feel our time here becoming more finite, our attention hones. We pause. We marvel. We are constantly astonished.
As it turns out, this experience isn’t so much a reflection of our age as it is our perception of time. When we feel time vast, spreading out before us, our focal point is on the future, but when we feel a possible end to our time here, our attention draws close and we appreciate the little things. So even someone young facing death will have this urge to stop and soak in the little things.
In his book, Being Mortal; Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande summarizes research on this experience:
“…how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have. When you are young and healthy, you believe you will live forever. You do not worry about losing any of your capabilities. People tell you “the world is your oyster,” “the sky is the limit,” and so on. And you are willing to delay gratification—to invest years, for example, in gaining skills and resources for a brighter future, you seek to plug into bigger streams of knowledge and information. You widen your networks of friends and connections, instead of hanging out with your mother. When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all that stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid- achievement, creativity, and other attributes of ‘self-actualization,” but as your horizons contract—when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain—your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you.”
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
But our ‘knowledge’ of the time we have is far from certain. Sometimes our belief we will always have another day keeps us from appreciating the days we have. Practices like mindfulness and meditation, reading poetry, help ground us in the present so we can capture those moments, but it’s difficult to keep our own mortality enough in our consciousness to really grasp the preciousness of each moment.
In the play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, the lead character Emily, a young woman who loses her life early in childbirth, is given the opportunity to revisit one day in her life, and she sees it all with new eyes:
Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…I can’t. I can’t go on.It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute? Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some. Emily: I’m ready to go back.”
Our Town, by Thornton Wilder
Today is that day, a day for us to realize life while we’re living it, every, every minute as much and as best as we can.