I’ve always been a good listener, because I’m naturally curious about how people think about things, how each of us makes sense of our lives, why we do what we do. Sometimes being a good listener has gotten me in trouble, as people have equated “listening” with “agreeing” and assume that I think whatever they’re saying, especially a political opinion, is something I believe too. I’ve learned to give earlier signals that while I’m hearing and understanding a person’s heartfelt belief, I don’t agree.
Sometimes what people share is way TMI, and I steer those conversations toward a quicker end. Sometimes people have an endless need to talk and no capacity to listen back, and I don’t feel the need to oblige a bottomless pit of attention-seeking. But I’m struck, and often moved, by the small personal moments people share simply because as human beings, we need to be witnessed.
I had such a moment yesterday, listening briefly to someone who’s working really hard — and at some cost to herself — to do the right thing even though the family members she’s helping aren’t grateful and nobody else much cares either. We can tell ourselves that we’re doing the right thing, but sometimes it matters to have someone else affirm that “this is a choice you’re making, and only a good and decent person at heart would do it. ”
I really meant that, and although nothing changes the basic situation, I hope our shared moment mattered.