When my husband, Ed, was in seminary, he came home one day with something funny to relate. In his counseling class, the professor stressed the importance of listening. He instructed them in the art of listening to the clients, paying careful attention, then repeating back to the clients in their own words what had been discussed. It’s an empathy lesson, a session in careful listening as the counselor tries to discern what the client is really feeling, then in turn the counselor makes the client aware that everything they said had been accurately heard. The professor said one of his students came back to class one day and told him how it went. Here was the student’s story: My elderly patient was saying, “I can’t stand it anymore, I am in daily pain.” I responded, “What I hear you saying is you can’t stand it anymore, you are in daily pain.” The patient looked at me for a moment, then said, “I am in such a depression, can’t focus, don’t feel life has meaning.” I responded, “What I hear you saying is you are in such a depression, can’t focus, don’t feel life has meaning.” At this point the patient said, “Is there a damn echo in here?!”
As humorous as that story is, the point about listening and being heard is valid and so applicable to what is going on in our society. I just took a break from Facebook because the negativity and hate was wearing me down. We can’t stand still enough to listen to our brothers and sisters when they tell us how they feel. The Black Lives Matter folks are trying to tell us how scared they are around police officers, from their person experiences or seeing what it is happening to others. They say so often they are treated in a demeaning manner from society at large. The police officers are trying to tell us what it’s like to have their lives on the line every day, and how scary it is to stop a total stranger, who one day might be an old man who accidentally ran a red light to a wanted murderer who has nothing to lose when confronted and the officer may only have a few seconds to react to a threat. The white folks are telling us they are scared at the way society has changed, it’s too fast for them, and besides, they think since slavery has been fixed, and everything is integrated, and we have blacks in places of power, so what’s the big deal? They hear “Black Lives Matter” and add the words “more than other lives” and are offended, and the blacks hear the exact same phrase and add the words “just as much as other lives.” Everyone assumes if your pro-cop, you’re anti-black; if you’re pro-black, you’re anti-cop. The conversation deteriorates from there. Everyone talks, few really listen.
What are we supposed to hear? That the “other side” hurts, they have feelings, they are frustrated, they are scared. It is human nature to want to have a voice. We want somebody to hear us. Even kids. I’ve just read a book about the old TV show where Andy Griffith and Ron Howard played a sheriff and his son. One day on the set, little Ron, who played Opie, took the director aside and said, “I don’t believe a little kid would say those words just that way.” The director responded by saying, “Well, how would a kid say that, then?” Ron gave the sentence as he thought it should be played, and the director gave him the green light to change the script. Ron got a huge smile on his face and right before the scene was taped, Andy Griffith asked Ron what he was smiling about. He told him the director had LISTENED TO HIM and was taking his advice! Andy asked him why that was so great and Ron said that he had many times asked the director to change something and he never had…up until now. Andy replied that it was probably because this was the first idea he had that was any good!
I’ve read enough psychology to understand that if someone comes to you, whether friend or family member or whoever, and says, “I feel….,” you should never EVER respond by saying: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” “It’s your own fault.” “You don’t really feel like that.” “What do you expect me to do about it?” - or anything similar. Feelings are valid! If I feel hurt in a situation, it doesn’t matter if the hurt was intended or not, the very fact I feel hurt should be acknowledged.
Society is hurting. Society is scared. It’s not time to fan the flames of insults and demeaning, demoralizing arguments. It’s time to listen. Hear the pain from everyone. Hear the anguish, the frustration, and after we listen, REALLY listen, with an open mind, human to human, we can go from there.
One of the lasts posts I shared on Facebook before my “sabbatical” said that the phrases that matter most in the English language that we don’t say enough are “I love you.” I’m sorry.” “Please forgive me.” Thank you.” I will add one more to that….”I hear you.”