A skill that can be overlooked, and often not recognized for its worth is the ability to just listen. As I continue to venture further into adulthood, I’m finding more and more how important it is for me to be a listener and how valuable it is when someone is willing to listen to me.
As a friend, you want to have all of the answers, you want to be that safety net and that reassurance, but sometimes you don’t know what to say, what advice to give, so just listen. It was easy to give advice when the troubles of my friends had to do with prom dress choices, annoying little sisters, overly strict parents, or even how to get the most popular guy to notice you. Or when you were reassuring a friend who got cut from the team, failed a math exam, was rejected by that really popular guy. As an adult we are navigating a very different world and instead my friends are dealing with the death of a parent, a miscarriage, addiction, being unhappy with their career path. They are coming to me with questions about how to reinvent themselves, how to be a mom of a kindergartner that isn’t meeting his milestones, how to balance their parents’ demands of them while trying to build their own family. Life is tricky as an adult, it’s harder. As a friend the best thing we can do is just listen. Just be there. We can’t solve these problems, but we can be a sounding board, a constant in their lives.
Being a mom of five children who works full time is quite a juggling act. I find myself feeling like I’m constantly running, constantly checking the next thing off of the to-do list so we can function as a family. I have five different voices vying for my attention. Five voices that want to be heard. I tend to half listen, I’m only partially present, because while the conversation is taking place, I’m preparing dinner, cleaning dishes, wiping up a mess that another one made, stopping a baby from climbing the steps, getting the bags organized for the next day. I need to slow down and just listen. When I choose to pause and be present I learn the most interesting things, things like how Parker and the neighborhood boys have a well thought out plan for a neighborhood football league, the plot for Weston’s next book which derives from something he learned at school that day, the fact that Corbin might be the sweetest boy ever especially when he says things like “oh sure, Mommy” when I ask him to help a sibling. If I truly listen I’ll hear how sassy Caroline can be and yet at the same time talk to her babies with the softest voice, and how Ryland sings every nursery rhyme while he skips along. I miss these things sometimes. I miss them because I’m not really listening.
I know what it feels like to not be heard, I know how disrespectful that feels. I want so much to be appreciated, to feel important, to have a sense of value to someone else. I have experienced the frustration and sadness that floods my being when I’m mid-conversation about my day and I notice my husband has drifted to reading an email on his phone for work, or following a thorough step-by-step guide with visual prompts during instruction and a student says, so what are we doing? I know how small you can feel sometimes when a colleague quickly dismisses your idea or blatantly ignores your suggestion. Have you ever thought - is anyone listening to me? That is a lonely place to be in life, when you feel unheard. It’s like you are unworthy, don’t matter, it can truly silence you and you can become frozen, numb. I know, I’ve been in that place. But I have been on the other side too and I feel important when someone pauses to hear my side, I feel valued when someone acknowledges my presence by looking me in the eye when I’m speaking, I feel empowered when someone responds to something I’ve written (because that’s listening too). Knowing that your voice matters because others pause to listen is a powerful boost in one’s life. How nice when someone just listens.
I stumbled upon a handful of quotes - sometimes I get lost in a rabbit hole on Pinterest - and I want to leave them with you to consider…
The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, and others over self.
Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heart.
Think about how simple and yet how powerful it can be to just listen. To be there for someone in that way and to fuel them with self-worth. Think about how by just listening you can empower someone else and you too can gain so much. The ability to genuinely care what someone else has to say and be present is a gift.
I’m really working on being able to pause and listen to my children, I don’t want to miss these moments. I want to be better about being there for my friends when all they really need is someone to listen to them and to be heard. I want to continue to build myself an army of people who will listen to me and be there in that way when I need them. We can all be better. What a simple and instantly impactful way to improve. Just listen.