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Listening is easy when you are falling in love, talking to your best friend, receiving good news, or meeting a kindred spirit. It gets harder when the person you are talking to is not so close, and even harder when you’re distracted or tired or unsure of what to say or feel when you hear what’s being said.

In the last few months, the idea of listening keeps coming up in the books I read, podcasts I listen to, and shows I watch. I even did a Creative Mornings virtual workshop about listening. I have welcomed the learnings because, in this season of my life, listening seems to be the saving grace. 

When my middle school son says he feels humiliated after coming in last place at his track meet, somewhere between coddling him and breaking his spirit is listening. 

When my mother gets stuck in a bout of nostalgia retelling a story about my dad that I’ve heard a hundred times, somewhere between living seeped in the past and tiring too quickly of precious memories is listening. 

When a friend shares that she is bone tired from caring for her child struggling with mental illness, somewhere between helplessness, discomfort, and trying to find solutions is listening.

Thankfully, I am familiar with in-between spaces, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a hard place to be. 

In my last post, I shared Valarie Kaur’s thoughts on the power of listening. Another great book that shines a light on how to listen is Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness in which he talks in-depth about the Quaker practice of circles of trust. One of the rules of circles is “No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight.” So what is done then?

“…we listen receptively to the truth of others; we ask each other honest, open questions instead of giving counsel; and we offer each other the healing and empowering gifts of silence and laughter…This way of being together is so countercultural that it requires clear explanation, steady practice, and gentle but firm enforcement…” (p. 116)

I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more of us practiced listening in this way. 

In Brene Brown’s new HBO series based on her book, Atlas of The Heart, she role-plays being a bad listener with a woman who is trying to share her struggles. She first tries to offer advice, then she changes the subject with a similar story from her own experience, and then she says something to make the person feel worse. When she models what a good listener does, she is attentive, asks questions, and offers support instead advice.

In the workshop I mentioned, facilitator Sophie Kӓnzig shared four practical listening tools:

Be Present · Mute your own thoughts and trust that they will be there later.

Be Curious · Stay with the speaker. Listen to what is important to them. Listen with a sense of wonder. Listen for what is not being said.

Be Silent · Follow the speaker’s words with quiet gratitude.

Be Patient · Understand that this can be hard for the speaker and for you as the listener.

Listening takes time and attention, which, in our hurried and distracted lives, does not come easily. It is so worth it though, to foster that connection and to show love.

Palmer, Parker J. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life : Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004.

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