Monday, May 04, 2009

This I Believe

The other day I was listening to a podcast of "This American Life" and they were talking about the NPR podcast "This I Believe" and I was enamored by the idea. So I went to the original "This I Believe" website, read some of the essays, learned the personal essay rules, and here is my This I Believe Essay:

I believe in power of listening.

I believe that people need to be validated. They need to know that what they are contributing to society matters. They need to be heard. Sometimes they want feedback, advice, or a shoulder to cry on, but most times they just need someone to listen.

I am no expert at listening-in fact it is something I have been working on for years and I am still working on. listening isn’t just about hearing spoken words. Sometimes to be a great listener you have to hear things that are unspoken.  I believe that as much as people speak with their mouths-it’s their hearts that are screaming to be heard.  I also believe that some of the greatest communication comes in the depths of silence.  To borrow a line from a hymn, “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” 

Listening is more than just hearing someone.  Listening requires restraint, patience, and often action.  Sometimes listening means throwing all judgement out the door, letting people tell their own story, and literally getting down on ones level to hear what they are saying or not saying with their mouth and/or their heart.

Recently as I was working as a Behavior Coach for kids in the Foster Care System I realized how simple yet profound the act of listening can be. One my clients was a 7 year old boy who had been in and out of foster care homes since he was born. He was born addicted to drugs, has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and many behavior disorders. I was called in to work with him as sort of a last resort. His foster parents didn’t now what to do with him and his case work and others were running out of ideas. I went to a few meetings about my client and realized quickly that everyone was either talking about him or at him and not very many people were listening to him.  I chose to listen and that made all the difference! When we would get together I would ask him what he wanted to do and one day he said go for a walk.  About half way around the block he stopped-so I stopped.  Instead of launching into a million questions--I waited and listened. He said, “Do you think it would be okay with you if we sat here?” And so we sat and he talked and I listened and in that small moment, he and I sitting on the sidewalk, he told me wanted to be an animal doctor when he grew up. He told me he was sad when his mom didn’t come when she promised, that he was tired from not sleeping through the nights, and that he didn’t want to be so angry anymore.  He told me many more things that had been locked inside his heart, and although I had the urge to fix his problem and tell him what to do--I just sat there and listened. There were long moments when no one spoke, moments when he just took deep breaths, and one moment when my heart seemed to hear faintly what his heart was trying to say.

I believe in the power of listening. I believe in beautiful silence and in the painfully awkward silence. Most importantly I believe in listening with my heart as well as with my ears. 

If you are interested I would love to read your "This I Believe" personal essay!

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