love

The Art of Listening: Stop Telling, Start Hearing, Give Feeling

My best friend knows me about as well as I know myself, and he is the one person in the world that I have told everything to. Part of the beauty of our friendship is that I don’t feel that I have to tell him everything but I know that I can and want to tell him everything.

He is my confidante, advisor, soulmate, comedian, and one hell of a listener.

Recently, I asked him to just listen, to offer no advice or opinions because even though I respect and value whatever he has to say, and I know it always comes out of love and care for me, and I know he is always right (dang nabbit)… At that moment, I just needed someone to hear how I was feeling. I needed empathy, not pragmatics.

And I am tired of people telling me how to feel.

Do you know how hard it is to shut your mouth and just listen? Humans have a natural instinct to try to fix things, even if it isn’t their own thing to fix. Vulnerability makes so many people uncomfortable that when they see someone else opening up their bag of emotions, they instinctively reach to clasp it shut.

No one wants to pick up the pieces of brokenness, so humans work to make things right and whole again. We hurt to see others hurting, but we’re also scared shitless of it. I know. I’ve been there.

My best friend listened to me, my big mouth, and my bigger heart for an hour. He didn’t set the phone down away from him; I could hear him breathing. He said about two sentences, neither of which was advice. One was a short but welcome opinion. The other was a deep sigh followed with two of the most common words in the English language, a phrase that we dole out like chocolate in a candy store, words that are simultaneously overused and underused because often times we’re too self-righteous, egotistical, or bull-headed to use them.

He told me, “I’m sorry.”

He wasn’t pitying me and he wasn’t trying to fix me. He wasn’t telling me that I would be okay, that it would get better–things I already knew to be true. He was just feeling my feelings, embracing my vulnerability. That simple act, listening and empathizing, acknowledged the courage it took for me to slice open my chest and lay my beating heart on the table.

Sometimes, when I bare myself in this way, the flutter of ensuing commentary is like a meat pounder, and my heart is its victim. Sometimes, those remarks are what I need to hear. Usually, they’re what I should hear.

But sometimes, I already feel so hurt and alone that bringing out the meat pounder only grinds me to a pulp. Words are so very powerful. Sometimes, too many of them can be so overbearing that their target looms smaller.

While speech has a time and place and always a freedom and right, sometimes listening is the greatest act of love we can offer someone who is in pain.

I asked my friend if he was dying to give me advice. He told me no. He said one day, when I’m ready, I’ll hear it. But that wasn’t today. Today he was just sorry.

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