One seriously windy and ghostly day, a chaplain visited an elderly gentleman in his room within the aged-care facility the elderly gentleman called home. It was not a routine visit. The elderly gent, a dementia sufferer, had been driving his family away, and he hadn’t been too kind on the staff either. It seemed impossible to get through to him. But the chaplain found a way to help. The chaplain knew a way to listen that works most if not all the time.
Yet we lament…
The world does not know how to listen, because it does not have the interest. And those of us who are especially spiritual don’t do a great deal better a lot of the time. Most of us are far too consumed in distraction to be any good at giving others the attention they really do deserve. And where we aren’t distracted on other things we get distracted within our own inner world. Listening seems difficult for us all.
To listen with effect is a challenge. But it’s less of a challenge if we listen with the curiosity of compassion — to listen with genuine interest. It’s quite an easy skill to learn, and better still it makes our hearts more reachable and teachable.
If you desire to be a better listener through the curiosity of compassion, consider these ideas:
1. Consider every interaction, and especially your helping interactions, as eternal moments that you won’t get back. You’re on mission, and your listening is an opportunity to be that person’s secret agent, to serve them in their momentary need, by scouring your own thought energies so everything they say is ‘recorded’. When you listen that well you find it nourishes your interest and esteem for this other person. And that helps generate questions that help you enter more deeply into their story.
2. Ask one-worded questions for clarity. In whatever they’re saying, there’s the opportunity of demonstrating you’re listening and gaining more clarity and not interrupting their flow when you ask a one-worded question in context. If someone says to you, “… and they were nice enough, but I just found it was more or less all about them…” you can interject, “… them?” and that opens up the person you’re speaking with to talk more about what “all about them” means.
3. Sit with the person in silence and don’t be awkward about it. None of us knows the therapy that silence offers until we partake of it. Sometimes people have nothing to say and we ought not to fill the void with an effusion of words, unless they want us to talk, to read to them, etc. Silence permitted between two is the nexus of friendship, and any compassionate helping relationship has the best of friendship about it. Silence is a dear and healing friend in therapy.
4. Be prepared to pray for the person, and don’t be afraid to engage your emotions. Through prayer with the right emotions engaged, the person who has been listened to hears you’ve listened, and they hear not only your heart, but they hear God’s heart too. When we’re not afraid of being vulnerable and entering into another person’s pain, we are able to intercede through the eternal moment and bring God’s healing through the Holy Spirit.
The abovementioned chaplain did these things. He listened for what the elderly man said, but also for what he didn’t say. He prayed as he listened, for enhanced acuity. And the more intently he listened, the more he entered the man’s story, the more interested he became. In the silent moments, the chaplain showed how interested he was to not force his own agenda. He demonstrated patience which was perceived as the kindness of love. He offered to pray for the man, and was able to help by bringing their frustrations to bear in the prayer. The chaplain had been vulnerable enough to understand how frustration is a common human emotion with which he, himself, struggles.
When we listen with real interest, our listening creates real curiosity, and our listening is full of compassion.
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1. Which of these four areas can you most improve at or develop? What plan could you initiate to develop in this area?
2. If you were to define listening with the curiosity of compassion, what would you add?
© 2016 S. J. Wickham.