Tag Archives: listening

meaningful stories and idle chatter

conversationa theme for me in the last little while has been to hear from others, “i don’t want to talk about this because i don’t want to be a burden.”

i honestly think i’m wired differently than most people. hearing people’s meaningful stories, whatever they’re about, is rarely, rarely a burden for me. and when it is, i have no problem dealing with it.

cancer, childhood sexual abuse, addiction, death, mental illness, unemployment – this is the stuff of life just as weddings, pregnancy, promotions, travel and enlightenment.

whatever is meaningful to you, my clients, my friends, family and acquaintances, actually, i can hardly get enough of it. when someone tells me what’s going on for them, they let me into their lives. it’s an honour and frankly, it’s fascinating. why go to the movies?

so i’m a very willing listening ear, and when my listening and our conversation help someone along, i am deeply grateful.

what i do have limited patience for is meaningless idle chatter. idle chatter can be meaningful (otherwise i wouldn’t be so happy on twitter, i guess!). not everything has to be important with a capital I every time we open our mouths. i’ll never forget many years ago, when my first husband overheard a conversation i had with my best friend from school (we’re still close after almost 50 years, imagine that!), where we were talking about detergent. “how can you have such a banal conversation!” he exclaimed. he didn’t understand. the connection i have with ava is so deep and meaningful, we could spend a whole year talking about nothing but tide, and it would still be lovely.

i do have difficulty with certain types of idle chatter. i actually find it painful; perhaps as painful as others find listening to people’s harrowing lives and experiences. how might i describe this type … perhaps it would be the type of chatter that is marked by disinterest and/or unwillingness to at least contemplate engagement. someone talking about all the stores in the mall they went to last week, for example, without giving an interesting description (=engaging the other as listener), talking about what they thought/felt/remembered during the shopping trip (=engaging themselves), or asking questions or opinions (=engaging the other as conversation partner). in such situations, i tend do try to follow the talk (can’t really call it a conversation) and imagine the trip, ask questions, or, last resort, tune out – all of which i find quite exhausting. as i’m writing this, the image of a closed circuit comes to mind, one that may have a few openings here or there, but only for highly specific input, which will then immediately be reintegrated into that closed circuit. mine or other circuits are of no interest. does that make sense? i’m exploring this as i’m writing along …

but what you have to say about your marriage, your struggle with addiction, your sorrow and confusion over being an empty nester, your fears around your chronic illness – i will always be interested, and, oddly enough, i will always be invigorated. it might be the invigoration of a forest fire; perhaps we’ll have to wait a while until the ashes fertilize new life. more likely it will be the invigoration of a thunderstorm, or the awe that comes from walking the desert. i am, truly, grateful for your stories.

image by closely observed

learning to listen

people in vancouver's downtown eastsidetoday i’m guest blogging over at alex’s blog, our evolution, about a profound experience i had some years ago that allowed me to transcend my little judgments and and truly listen to the essence of what is said. you’d think that as a counsellor, that should be second nature to me – and i hope it is – when it comes to listening to clients. when it comes to reading books, well that is – or was – a different story. so why don’t you trundle on over and visit alex and hear what happened that summer morning in a short but unforgettable conversation among the drunks and hookers in the downtown eastside. oh, and by the way, the image you’ll see on that post is of the iona community, an ecumenical christian community in scotland that meant a lot to bruce, the guy i’m talking about in that article.

 (image by patrick doheney)