Learning to Listen

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” ~Dean Jackson

listening-manListening is a lost art. Believe it. There’s something to be said for sitting still, giving eye contact, and nodding along, not because you’re waiting for a chance to speak, but because you care enough to be there. I know too many people who are waiting to jump in, to offer suggestions, and to tell their own personal stories that may or may not be relevant to the issue at hand. But sometimes, sometimes listening should be just that — listening. Being there. Proving it.

And believe it or not, but someone you just met today can be a better listener than the friend you’ve had since diaper days. Someone who just walked into your life can be the friend to whom you can be most vulnerable and just let it out. Sometimes that’s better because you have no preconceived notions of them, and they have none of you. They can come into it as a fresh page ready to receive the scribbles of your soul.

I’ve had too many friends over the years who used me as just that sounding board, from those who I had known a while to those who I had just met, but something that was common to the vast majority was the assumption that there would be no reciprocation. I know this because these friends were never really there for me when I needed them, were never truly listeners for me because every time I saw them they were too busy talking.

Beware those who can’t keep their mouths shut long enough to listen. Odds are that if you let them in on your secrets, they won’t be secrets for long. And if they’re constantly interjecting their own thoughts how can they possibly be there for you? I know a few people who are always comparing whatever I’m saying with something that has happened in their life, even if there are absolutely no parallels, instead of just letting me vent, or get out my thoughts. They eventually moved on to other friendships, which was okay with me.

Because often that’s all I need is a pair of ears, a soul that obviously cares, and eyes that look into mine with empathy, with caring, with a firm commitment to be there for me. And that’s what I try my best to give to my friends who need me in turn. And it’s not reciprocity, the idea of “tit for tat.” It’s just being a good friend, no matter how often they may need me, or no matter how often I need them. They don’t keep score. They don’t disappear from my life, and I don’t from theirs.

Learning how to listen is a skill that is dormant from way too many people’s lives. It might have to do with the selfishness social media breeds, or it could be something else entirely. But whatever the reason, we need to bring it back. We need to empathize with others, to give them the gift of our time, because nothing is more precious.



Black Friends

“It’s hard for me to make black friends.”

11965720-friend-friendship-relationship-teammate-teamwork-society-icon-sign-symbol-pictogramI saw this on my Facebook newsfeed today, but it’s always been just as true for me. For those of you who don’t know me, who are reading my blog for the first time, I am black. I say this because I think it matters in the framework of the above quote. A white guy said this on my Facebook newsfeed, but it’s just as true for me.

I grew up in an entirely black neighborhood, I was a member of an entirely black church, and I went to an entirely black elementary school, but that didn’t make it any easier to find black friends. There were many black people around, so I had many black acquaintances, yet I didn’t really get close to anyone. It may have been some combination of my initial shyness, my lack of common ground with them, and/or my low opinion of myself.

Or it could just be that too many black people are too familiar with too many other black people without really knowing them. That has always been a pet peeve of mine. I would love to get to know you, but when you assume that you already know everything you need to know about me I bristle. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never felt normal, whatever that means, so I hate assumptions of normality.

But I shouldn’t generalize, right? As I very much know, not all black people are the same, even if the culture calls for over-familiarization when it comes to other black people. Getting through the initial assumptions, though, they’re tough, especially when the over-arching societal structures don’t allow for getting beneath the surface when you meet someone new.

Besides that, I don’t meet very many black people these days, which makes it that much harder to make black friends. I made the decision to live where I do, to work where I work, and to be where I am, so that’s partially a byproduct of those decisions, but I have to be honest. Even if I met a slew of black people every day, what are the odds that some of them would be my friends?

It’s hard for me to make black friends, even though I’m black. Maybe even because I’m black. But I guess it’s hardest for me to make black friends because for me people are people, because it was difficult for me to even put the term “black” in front of so many nouns in this post. It’s hard for me to make friends, period, which is okay. I’m an excellent friend once you get to know me, once you get to trust me, but not many take that opportunity.

Which is okay, because I hear that quality of friends is so much more important than quantity of friends, no matter their color.


Bigger & Better

“The greater part of our lives is spent in dreaming over the morrow, and when it comes, it, too, is consumed in the anticipation of a brighter morrow, and so the cheat is prolonged, even to the grave.” ~Mark Rutherford

I used to talk to a friend of mine about it all the time, the idea that people are always waiting for the bigger, better thing, that too often these days people have become placeholders, friends for a moment until better friends can be found as suitable replacements. And while it’s true of friends, it has also become true of intimate relationships. We can’t bear to be alone so we find someone to spend our time with, but we treat them like interchangeable parts that we can hang up when an “upgrade” becomes available.

Another friend of mine believes wholeheartedly in it. She says that as long as the people you’re involved with know what’s going on, that they’re just stand-ins for other potential mates, then it’s all good. But I can’t help but think that desperation leads people to agree to things they don’t really agree with. I have to admit that I can sometimes be one of those people, especially when it comes to the “friends” side of the equation, so desperate for human contact that I surround myself with people who are using me as the aforementioned placeholder. Then they disappear and I’m left waiting in the wings, wondering what happened to my starring role. Even though I know it is happening, I am still devastated every single time.

And so one argues that the pervasiveness of this “waiting game” is negative, the other one asserts that it’s positive for all involved, while I stand between the two, just fighting for a relevance that will keep me firmly in the friend zone with everyone I myself deem worthy. I’m not looking for anything bigger and better, just for something permanent. Because I’ve been on both sides of the equation, being the leaver, and being the one who’s left, and neither one feels good. Inevitably things even out, and I’m the one standing on the outside, looking in. If patience is indeed a virtue then I’m virtuous to no avail.

Maybe we do have the right to choose “bigger, better” friends, but that only makes it easier for them to then turn us over for what’s bigger and better than us in due time. In that way we get our comeuppance, those of us who choose to trade in and trade up. It’s ironic, really, but certainly fitting, when that happens, when we’re constantly checking our phones for texts from our new friends, but they never arrive. At some point we stop texting ourselves, because deep down we know they’ve passed us over for another, and we put our efforts into finding someone else who appreciates us for who we can’t help being without wanting something more.

And good luck with that.


Dear Journal: Optimism, and Best Friends

het_leuke_roze_van_de_stickers_bff_van_de_uil_en_m-rc04e264fae0048e58ba29ecec2678085_v9waf_8byvr_512Dear Journal,

I’m feeling optimistic today, and not just because I got my teaching schedule for the spring, but that’s a great reason to feel good. It’s exciting to see a continuation of what I’ve been working hard for the past few months. But I’m feeling optimistic because there are so many other things ahead that I can look forward to as well.

I got to see my best friend yesterday, and the times I see her are few and far between, but when we see each other it all clicks back into place. She is from a completely different background than I am, and her life has taken so many different turns from mine, but somehow we have always connected. She knows what to say when I talk to her, and I feel useful in return.

There’s just something about good friends, despite everything else that’s going on, being there for you whenever you need them. I know that’s what I’m getting used to now since we’ve been friends, and that makes me optimistic as well. See, I’ve been burned by so-called friends before, the ones who disappeared when things weren’t so perfect in my life or in their lives. And it took me ages to get over it each and every time they fell by the wayside, but that hasn’t stopped me from seeking out new friends. It just makes the process a little harder.

My wife has had the same friends to confide in over a long period of time, and for a while I used to be jealous of her, of that easy way they communicate. Because friends fill a critical role in our lives. They’re important, and I missed having that connection with people I called friends. That’s not to say that somewhere down deep I don’t harbor concerns that I’ll lose my best friend, but I have to feel optimistic that despite the odds she has still been there for me, so I have to believe that she will be there for me. Otherwise, why cultivate the relationship? But I’m not jealous of my wife and her friendships anymore. I appreciate that she has them to lean on, and to confide in.

And I’m feeling blessed right now.



Who I Tell

importantThink about the last time you had good news that you wanted to share with the world. But think again. Is it really the world you want to share with, or just a few select people who you know will care more about it? So you can Facebook it, or tweet it, or Instagram it, or blog it, or whatever, but who do you tell first? For me the list is short, and it depends on what the news is that I want to share (at least after I get past the first two people on the list anyway).

My wife is first, of course, because I know that she can look at all sides of it objectively. She revels in my excitement, but she also provides good perspective to keep me sane — so I don’t lose my mind in the ecstasy of it all. She keeps me grounded, which is great when there are side effects to the wonderful news.Of course she’s always first when it comes to devastating news too, and for the same reasons.

I would tell my mother too, because she has always been the one person who stood behind me from the moment I could even appreciate it and before. Sometimes, when the news is bad, I dread talking to her, knowing as I do that she won’t pull any punches. But I need that, the tough love that helps me get motivated to keep plugging away in the face of rejection. And she’s always so ecstatic when I share positive news too.

Then there are the people I call my close friends, but I use the term “close” loosely. I call them, or text them, or leave weird emojis on their phones just because I can, and sometimes they get back to me with a “great job,” or “I knew you could do it,” or “well that sucks,” or “dude, call me.” Sometimes they don’t get back to me at all, though, and I try not to judge them for it. Because, you see, my friends are all always so busy that sometimes they forget to respond to me. I really do try not to judge, but the times when they don’t respond make me sad.

The list dwindles from there because it’s just not as exciting to tell acquaintances, unless of course they are somehow connected to the news. Like if I got a teaching job I would tell all of my teacher friends because they would get it, they would completely understand the heights of my job. And if I didn’t get the job I would tell them as well because they would get that too — the agony of defeat.

That’s when I finally tell Facebook, when I send that quick tweet, when I blog about it and wait for the responses from the network of people who I’ve interacted with in some way at some time, who take the time to “like” whatever I post, who validate my thoughts and who commiserate with me when they don’t even know what’s wrong. There’s something to be said about a network like that, even if half of the time they don’t even read my posts. It’s those important times that count.

Because it’s not in the telling itself. It’s in who I tell. And when. That’s most telling.


In Like

“It’s hard to fall in love, but easy to fall in ‘like’, because ‘like’ doesn’t have such horrible connotations.” ~Anonymous

I’m in like with you. No, really. I mean it. You are exactly the person I want to be because you’re cool, you’re funny, and you know how to calm other people down when they’re upset. Those are great attributes to have, and I’m pretty cool too, so maybe we could hang out sometime?

Seriously, though, liking someone could be as simple as sharing one hobby in common, as easy as sharing a sense of humor, or as uncomplicated as having the same taste in movies. It could be sustained in any number of ways, not the least of which is spending more time together in various situations. It’s not unlike dating, except you’re not all worried about that kiss at the end of the night.

“Like” means you have someone to hang with when you get bored. It means you have a network of people who care about you, who you can lean on, and who can lean on you. It’s like you used to be the only kid with a party hat and “like” came along; now you can point out a bunch of other kids wearing the same hat at the same time. “Like” means it’s your special day every day.

And “like” beats love in almost every category. For starters, you need to like someone before you can love them. There has to be something about them that inspires you, that resonates in the marrow of your soul, before love can bloom. And unlike love, “like” isn’t fickle, even at the outset. It’s all about your needs as a human being, and we all need to have someone in the world who is in like with us.

So I’m in like with you. Do you like me too?


Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: