Monday Mitzvah: Listening With the Soul

We’ve talked about listening as a mitzvah before, but today we’ll touch on a different kind of listening.  My friend, Sue, graciously accepted my invitation to be a guest blogger today and share an experience she had recently.

If you like this (and I know you will,) you can read more of her musings at marysuemarshall.com

Listen to Me by Joseph Giilbert CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Fllickr
Listen to Me by Joseph Giilbert
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Fllickr

Listening With the Soul  by Mary Sue Marshall

I am known for talking. All my life, from the moment I said my first words, it has been hard for me to keep my mouth shut. I have many friends who can talk just as fast and prolifically as I do. But sometimes, even though it may take awhile, it’s best to listen.

I met with an old friend recently. This was a delightful man, full of life, humor and wisdom. He could keep up with me talking as well as the best of them. But earlier this year, he had a stroke. It was a pretty devastating one. When he finally left the hospital, it was in a wheelchair and into a rehabilitation home. Somehow, when meeting Josh again, I expected to see the same gentle giant, one who could talk a blue streak, as I knew before.

His grey eyes still had the same sparkle. While he is no longer in a wheelchair, he uses a walker, mostly for balance, he said and mostly because the chair attached comes in handy.  But he has slowed down, it is difficult to hear him and it takes him awhile to get words out. My usual tendency would have been to answer questions for him and do things for him. This time, for some reason, I held back.

While his delightful, wry sense of humor is still there, his mind is active and his mischievous smile, the one that reaches his eyes are all the same, he is just a bit slower do all the things we take for granted. Like talking, showering, eating, filling a glass.

I learned a lot about stroke survivors. He said that no one is willing to wait for him to answer something, they just answer for him, usually the wrong way. He said he will never learn how to talk again unless there is someone willing to do so and willing to wait for him to be able to get it out. He said, with a wry smile, that it didn’t matter much if he could talk or not because I could do all the talking without a problem! He also said how frustrating it was to be healing from the stroke and able to do something for himself, but no one really wanted to wait for him to do it, so they do.

I recently received a head injury after a severe concussion. I am finding it very difficult to express myself with words. The ease of writing and of speaking has left me for a bit. While I am still capable of doing just about everything, it just takes me a bit longer. The right word will disappear or I can’t remember how to spell a word.

Talking with Josh, him speaking slowly and with great care and me, for once, listening, I learned some great lessons. As friends and parents, we always want to make life easier for those we love. But more often than not, it is the kinder lesson to allow them to do the things for themselves that they can. I realized that the true listening part of love is not what we hear with our ears but what we feel from them in our hearts. I learned that, in this fast-paced word, we are often in a hurry to make things happen, to get things done.

Sometimes, slower is better.Sitting there, listening to Josh tell me the things that had been in his mind awhile, I realized the old adage, “Good things come to those who wait”, is true. By allowing Josh to tell me what was on his mind, rather than saying what it was I thought he wanted to say, I heard the old Josh. He’s still in there. His mind is alive and brilliant as ever. His sense of humor and the little boy grin is just the same, perhaps a little lopsided now, but just the same.

Our old friendship is still there. Nothing has changed much. But I have learned the value of listening, not in the typical sense, but in the goal of Josh learning again how to get the words from that funny, intelligent, quirky mind of his. I learned that by my not talking so much, he heard. By his speaking so slowly, I was able to hear not just the words from his mouth, but what was in his soul.

I received so much more than Josh. We’re meeting again this week, so he can talk.

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Monday Mitzvahs: Listening and Mirroring

In last week’s mitzvah, I talked about validation.  This week let’s discuss my other favorite word listening.  When I write about listening and validation, as opposed to giving advice, I am aware that this is an age old difference between men and women.  Generally speaking, men like to fix things, and so they give advice.  Women complain that they just want to be listened to.

There is a funny video (less then 2  minutes long) about a man’s view of this classic dilemma.  If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and watch it now.  I’ll wait for you.

It’s Not About The Nail by Jason Headley

As this funny video shows, there are circumstances where advice and problem solving are valuable.  and let’s be honest, women love to give advice also. Advice seems to be our cultural default. We all want to help, and we think we’re not helping if we just listen and say something like, “That would really bother me too.” Yet as I explained last week, there are times when validation is much more powerful than advice.

One of the problems with giving advice is sometime the problem is not obvious as in the nail.  As soon as we think we understand the problem, we start thinking of advice.  We might still be quiet but we are definitely not listening.  I think we are even more prone to do this with teens and children.

Mirroring Reflection by PixelAnarchy Public Domain Pixabay
Mirroring Reflection by PixelAnarchy Public Domain Pixabay

A way to avoid this is a technique called mirroring.  It’s simple, repeat back in your own words what you think the other person said.  You may feel foolish because after all, you are certain you know the problem and the solution.  Just take out the nail right?  But if you try this a few times you will see that often you are wrong.  Recently I asked my husband to do something for me.  He said yes and that was all.  I asked, “Don’t you want to know why?”

He looked at me like I was asking an overly simple question.  “No.  I know why. You want me to do it because . . .”

His understanding of my motivation was very thoughtful, insightful and WRONG.  I’m sure I have done the same to him, and I know I have done it to my children.  But hey, I’m trying to do better.

So here’s your mitzvah challenge for the day:  Listen and mirror before you give advice–or even better–give validation!

Have a great Monday!

P.S. Sorry this post was “late”.  I know you were all anxiously waiting <grin>, but it is still Monday after all.

Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1,000 Mitzvahs

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Monday Mitzvahs: Validation – It’s Not Just for Parking

My two favorite words are: listening and validation.  And still a couple times recently, I have found myself biting my tongue to keep from giving advice.  It was well-intended.  I just wanted to help.  But in both situations I realized that if the roles were reversed, I would be looking for validation not advice.

RFID Validation Stand by Steven Vance CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr
RFID Validation Stand by Steven Vance CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr

For example, a friend of mine told me about a memory that had surfaced of a time when she had been betrayed by someone close to her.   My first instinct was to make excuses for the person that hurt her.  Somehow I thought that would make her feel better.  Then I remembered that my husband had recently made the same mistake.  He tried to make me feel better by making excuses for someone that had hurt me.  I appreciated that he was trying, but it made me feel even more frustrated. What I really wanted was for him to say, “What you are feeling is understandable.”

Another incident that really brought this home for me was in therapy.  This week my therapist was “off”.  I don’t know what happened but it felt like he was on auto-pilot mode (yes we discussed it).  By auto-pilot mode I mean that I felt he was giving me less validation and more advice.  He didn’t actually give me advice, I just felt the questions were leading that way and I didn’t like it.  I felt let down.

The experience with my therapist helped me understand something else about validation.  It’s more than saying, “what you are feeling is okay.”  By validating someone, and not giving advice, you are saying, “I have confidence  in you to find the answers you seek.”   That feels empowering.

I think that being told that your feelings are understandable, and feeling someone’s confidence in you (feeling empowered) are especially important for survivors of abuse, because those are some of the very things that are taken from us by the abuse.  When we are abused, the messages are clear, “Your feelings don’t matter,”  and “There is nothing you can do about this.  You are powerless.”

So next time someone shares a problem with you, consider validation instead of advice.  It maybe  the best gift you can offer them, especially if that person is a survivor.

NJ - USA by Anna Strumillo CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Fotopedia
Doesn’t this little girl look empowered?
NJ – USA by Anna Strumillo CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Fotopedia

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Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1000 Mitzvahs.