Time to Listen

Anne Swayze
We watch shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and our preferred time zone television stations.
We take in the drama, mystery, feats of culinary mastery, romance, and adventure. The sights, visual cues, artistic sets, and cliff-hanging moments keep us focused on our computer and tv screens. These viewing moments are accented by conversation, verbal narratives, musical interludes, and at some point, we are completely immersed and mesmerized by what we are watching. An hour goes by, two hours go by, and poof, the visual story is over, and we move on to our next event.

We take walks; we drive to our destinations; we talk less, text more, and Zoom. Oh, how we love/hate to Zoom. Each day we engage with others; we share stories of our lives, jobs, and families, and we make plans to gather, particularly during the holiday season. We envision our gatherings and drift back to past gatherings that brought us together. Sometimes, we hope to re-create the memories and are slightly disappointed when our new memories don’t meet our expectations. But we remind ourselves to keep our eyes fixed on the future, new opportunities, new relationships, new experiences.

As we enter our holiday season, I am attuned to the casual and not-so-casual gatherings that will bring together acquaintances, friends, and family. Recently, I was engaged in a conversation before a social outing, where a friend turned to me and said, “Tonight, I am going to really listen to others' stories and make sure that I remember everyone's name. I want to end the gathering by being able to not only recount the stories but remember the names of the individuals who told those stories.” Great idea, I thought, followed by shouldn’t that be the case whenever we meet, gather, and engage with others?

Often, we reply and nod in agreement after a conversation. It is as if we are saying yes, I hear you--and yet we have all experienced moving away from a conversation, and, as we work to recount the exchange, realizing that we didn’t listen as well as we should have. We find ourselves trying to recount the exchange. Of course, it begs the question about how well we listen and, more specifically, how well we want to listen? The act of listening has meaning, shows respect, and signifies importance. It provides the stage to create connections and build trust. It reminds us that although our family origins are the same, paths and passions may have taken us in different directions. Among friends, our discovery about them and our patience for them takes flight when we pause and listen. And, when meeting new acquaintances, we are invited into their lives. We listen intently.

Educators spend their lifetime listening to the sounds of young people as they move through their days: thoughtful conversations, jubilant exclamations, and laughter that originates from deep within. The sounds of the young and talented remind us what is best in the world.

Today and all days, let us be mindful and committed to listening at a deeper level, taking softer steps, pausing when life begins to spin too quickly, and breathing from the inside out--we need the oxygen.

Listen deeply. Listen between the lines. Listen to hear. Listen because you care.