I stand in awe of peace negotiators, restorative justice leaders and dispute mediators. They bring people back together again by teaching them how to listen to each other.
To empathize and replace stereotypes with understanding. To have their emotions and opinions heard. To experience the hope of common ground. To see each other as humans with dreams and fears and things they love.
Listening is that powerful. It gives us experiences of our shared humanity. And parents of teens and young adults are called upon to listen every day. You hear about the super friend, the unfair teacher/boss, dashed hopes, big frustrations, perplexing problems and more.
And since your kids are changing so much and so quickly, it’s hard to know which listening skills are going to be needed when they walk in the room. And if you’ll have the bandwidth for it…
On top of that, the young adults in our lives often aren't sure if they want to be heard or not. They wonder if it isn't safer or more mature to keep it in. They can't quite identify what they want heard. They wonder, what's the point?
So, when did you learn how to listen to others?
That may seem like a strange question - it's not something we talk about much. And yet our ability to listen to others is central to a peaceful, fulfilling life.
Although some of us take special training in listening, we mostly pick it up through observation and life experiences.
Who were the ones who showed you what it means to give someone your full attention and take in what they have to convey? Take a moment to name them.
My first memory of being really listened to was when I was maybe four or five and I ran away from home to the next-door neighbor’s. Mrs. Hooker didn't tell me I had to go home and she contradict my complaints. She just listened and I felt understood. The fact that I still remember that day speaks volumes about the impact we have when we really listen to someone.
In my twenties, I was immersed in talking circles, healing circles, dancing circles and women's rituals. I was fascinated by the magic of being witnessed and my increasing willingness to reveal who I am. I felt accepted, appreciated and loved.
A decade later, while living in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, I had a profound personal experience of how listening connects us to our shared humanity. I had been invited into an Indigenous women’s weekly talking circle. I felt so honoured to be in this group and was, at first, a little unsure of what to share and how deep to go. But it soon became apparent that we would share our hearts and souls.
On a windy November night, we were settled around the candles on thick blankets. When my turn came, I shared that I had screamed something horrible at my little boy and handled him roughly. The women around me beheld my shame and anguish as I poured it out. When all became silent and still, the candlelight seemed to change colour. A feeling swept over me, an amazing peace, and I caught a glimpse of myself connected not just to all of them but to all the mothers in the world. The reality of our shared humanity. And it was a turning point in my parenting journey.
Think back to moments in your life when you felt really heard, when your heart was engaged and open, and your Light was honoured. What moments are clearly etched on your memory?
How have those experiences shaped your ability to listen to your friends, colleagues and adversaries?
How can you give those experiences to your kids?
QUIETING the INNER VOICES
Being able to listen to others usually requires quietening some of the voices that exist within us. Because when those voices are soothed and hushed, there is more space. Beautiful space, like rests between long notes on a cello. Or like a solitary bird flying over a wide prairie field.
When the inner voices are calm, there is room for not only the voices of others, but for your own truest voice, the one that is connected to your deepest truths and yearnings.
And how do we quieten those other voices and make that room?
We listen to those parts of ourselves. We walk in the woods and listen. We get up an hour earlier to have tea alone with those voices. We acknowledge what they have to say.
When the voice is scared, we listen to discover what it's trying to protect us from. When that voice is hard on us, we listen for the love under the anger and disappointment. When the voice is sad, we listen to the pain.
We write in our journals and let their words come. We paint them and dance them. We sit silently in the candlelight until the hush arrives.
FULLY LISTENING to OTHERS
True listening requires us to listen "freshly" because every human interaction is unique and new. Full listening requires us to be present to this moment, even if we think we’ve heard the same thing a hundred times before. Because it's not ‘just like the last time’ - it's this time.
When your teenager launches into what sounds like that same old moaning about having to be home by 11pm, true listening means hearing it for the first time, with no assumptions about what will be said or where it will lead. You are attentive and curious.
When your 20-yr-old says you’re smothering them and they’re not coming home for the holidays, you are called to be present to this moment and listen anew. Your previous judgements and desires are set aside, and you willingly give space to what is true for them right now.
As we become increasingly intentional about practicing the art and skill of really listening, the way opens. When we hear one another, the shared perspectives generate new possibilities. The generosity of giving our attention to another opens the space and expands ‘what is’ to ‘what can be’.
When we listen, we connect to the voices of other people’s hearts, our communities and the wisdom and mystery of our existence. We surrender ourselves to the collective.
And when we belong, we are instruments of peace.
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