As a journalist, it is my job to listen.
Of course, it’s important to ask the right questions, but it’s just as important to listen closely to the answers – to not interrupt, to simply hear what the other person is telling you. To allow them to tell their story.
Despite learning to do this throughout my career, it turns out I wasn’t that good at it at home – at first.
Several months ago, possibly before Christmas, David had been having a rough day at work – something I’m sure we’ve all had many times. He called me on the phone as I walked home, wanting to speak through the issue. I immediately jumped to offer my advice, and told him exactly what I thought he should do. After a while of back and forth, disagreeing with one another, each of us getting more and more curt, exasperated he just snapped, ‘Look, I don’t want to be told what to do, I just want you to listen and say it’s all going to be ok!’
At the time, I was bewildered. How could he not want my advice? Didn’t he need my help?
But later I understood, he just wanted to vent. He wanted to get the huge weight of a stressful day off his chest to someone. Someone who wouldn’t interrupt, or judge, or criticise, but instead would listen, sympathise, and tell him ‘tomorrow is a brand new day’.
I read this today, which got me thinking back to that conversation: A moment that changed me: finally listening to my suicidal wife
A short but powerful piece by Mark Lukach, it helped me understand just how important simply listening to each other is.
I’m incredibly lucky in my life that I’ve never had to experience the terrible pain Mark and his wife must have felt during that time.
I’m learning to listen more at home now. When David, a friend, a family member wants to talk, I let them. I sit and I patiently take it all in without interruption. I try to say the right things when a response is needed, but mostly I try to sit quietly.
As philosopher Paul Tillich said: “The first duty of love is to listen.”
Or perhaps, as humourist Will Rogers said: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”