What We Want to Hear

“Don’t waste your time with explanations. People only hear what they want to hear.” ~Paulo Coelho

i-hear-you-quote-1As a father, this rings true to me because my children often think I said something I never said. As a human being, this rings true because too often those who have a wealth more experience in listening than my children do the same thing. I don’t think it has anything to do with faulty hearing either. It’s so obviously because we do hear what we want to hear, or more precisely we hear what we want the other person to say.

“I love you,” my first girlfriend told me, but she didn’t really say that. What she said was that she enjoyed spending time with me, that she valued our relationship. But I had spent so much time and energy on having her love me that I didn’t get the hint, that I couldn’t reconcile what she actually said with what I thought she should say.

“You’re doing a great job,” my father said once when I was working on writing my first sermon. As a preacher himself, he was uniquely positioned to say whether or not I was really doing a good job. But I misheard him. He really said I was doing as good as I could, which didn’t remotely mean the same thing. I wanted him to be proud of me so much that I re-imagined his words.

And it hurts every time, even though I always set myself up, when I find out it’s not the way I wished it would be. But until then, while I’m in the honeymoon glow of the brilliance of my own deception, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the silver lining in a cloud I didn’t realize would rip open when I least expect it. It’s also a ton of bricks landing on my head, forcing me to deal with my own inadequacies, with my own co-dependency and need for love and acceptance from others.

“I feel good when you’re around,” a friend told me a few days ago, and she honestly meant it. Of course I ran it through my mind every which way I could, searching for the hidden indelicacies that had to be there, and I came up empty. I’ve learned to listen without expectation, but only because of all the time my hopes were dashed by my inability to do just that. When she said she felt good when I was around, I knew it didn’t mean she wanted me around all the time. I knew it was a “Thank you” for being there when she needed a shoulder.

I realize now that my first girlfriend probably never loved me, that my father was probably never proud of me, that so often people don’t say what I wish they would say. But that’s okay. Because I’d rather they said what they truly meant instead of being fake, instead of leading me to think something that’s not true. And I’d rather be clear right from the start, because do I really want to hear things that aren’t true?

Does anyone?



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.


Signal to Noise

sound_waves_by_zerosilverfang-d469d3aThese walls are so thin I can hear the ocean from here, its tide crashing against the shore, storing up energy for the return trip out to sea. I sit here in a padded metal chair, but the padding is just for show, all cracked but otherwise nondescript. It is the only feature in a featureless room in the exact middle of a three-story building that I’ve never visited before, yet it feels familiar.

I can hear the others screaming from so far away, or from the next room, whichever makes more sense. They are always raising their voices as if the heavens could hear and judge them from so far away, as if their very lives depended on the ability to stretch their lungs to contain God in a breath. I do not join them, although I know I am always welcome, and indeed I used to be the loudest one, but I have changed. It was subtle at first but it has taken root and blossomed in my soul.

My headphones are on the other side of my self-imposed prison cell, lying haphazardly in the corner as if I left them there as punishment. Which I suppose is a sort of truth in and of itself. I was listening to Peter Gabriel earlier, but I kept missing the sounds of the ocean, and the sounds of the others, and the sound of my own heartbeat thrumming in my chest, reminding me that I am alive. I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t a zombie, so I tossed them where they now lay.

But I’m driving myself crazy with the wondering, with the constant fear that at some point in the near future this will all go away, that no sound will survive the apocalyptic season that I know will come. I wonder if anyone even knows I’m here, listening, creating stories for the sounds I hear, wanting to be immersed in them but remaining on the fringes of a world I can only surmise. It’s been so long since I joined in that I’ve become a specter, a shadow on the wall of experience.

I can hear the whispers in my head, all the voices I can’t stop creating, or letting come through me. They swirl around in the dust bowl that is my scattered mind, reminding me that I’m not alone even when I so desperately want to be. These quiet aphorisms drift in my mind, calling out to me in the supposed calm, taunting me as only they can. As only I can. And as much as I want to be rid of them, they comfort me too, because they provide evidence that I’m alive as surely as my heartbeat does.

These walls keep me in, but they don’t keep sound out, so I pound on them, a beat so steady it begins to blend in with the other noises that crowd out my periphery. I open my mouth and scream into the confined space, but I know they hear me on the outside, just as I hear them, even though they don’t respond. And I guess that will have to be enough. I lean back in my uncomfortable chair and scream into the dissonance, adding my voice to theirs, adding one more brick in the wall of sound around me.

And I long for Peter Gabriel to drown it all out, as he did once before, as he will once again. If I let him. I glance across the room at my headphones. Where they sit waiting for me. In silence.



e874e2c0f6cbd5968fdbf3067198b666“True friends know your deepest, darkest secrets, but they never hold them against you. They listen while you breathe, and they breathe with you.” ~Theodicus

I think listening has become a lost art form along the lines of hieroglyphics and cubism, as neglected in the 21st century as html language and refrigerator school. And I wonder why, with all we know about how effective listening can be to ourselves and to others, that we continue to go in the opposite direction. Everyone is all about talking now. Indeed, blogging can turn into just that, a way to talk and talk some more without having to listen to anyone else, but it can also be a give-and-take, which is how it was intended. I like to listen.

This morning I had a conversation with a friend of mine about just what I was talking about on here, regrets, and the future. She told me, among other things, that one of the reasons we all have regrets is because life shows us so many alternatives after the fact, like Monday morning quarterbacks, and school is so expensive it’s backwards to try and go back after we realize the degrees we have just aren’t yielding jobs. But best of all she listened to me as I spelled out exactly what I felt wasn’t working, and exactly how I was feeling, emotionally and whatnot. She listened while I spilled everything out there, while I sighed and frowned, and while I eventually exhaled after all that talking.

See, that’s the key to real friendship, those friendversations where one friend can say his piece and the other can listen, because we all need those times. Then the shoe can be on the other foot, and the friend who was talking can be still and listen while the other unloads. It shouldn’t be all give and no take, neither should it all be a time to just bitch and moan about everything that’s going wrong in your life. It should be a time for structured listening, for each person to hear what the other has to say, to acknowledge it, and to give support. That support piece is another thing that’s missing too much these days. We aren’t looking for agreement when we talk, just for someone to be there, to show they care, and to offer their own opinions upon reflection.

So find some friends who will breathe with you because they’re rarer these days than a real Monet.


The Friendship Archive

@ The Library

As I sit here I am inundated with inane conversations from every side. And it’s the one time I can honestly feel invisible. As long as I keep my head down, and as long as I’m looking at my phone while I piece this post together, I will continue to be so. And the things I hear!

To my right are two what I could only describe as old friends having a chat about getting old. I have found out both of their ages, their medical conditions, and the fact that one of them is going to a party for a 107-year old relative next weekend. All in the space of five minutes.

Not to be outdone, the three fellas to my left have been having a loud discussion about females (and no, they didn’t call them females), obviously forgetting that they are in a public venue, that or just not caring. I think it might be the latter. No indoor voices in that bunch.

Then there’s the cafe behind me where a patron is drinking coffee and talking about being a quarter native American. I cannot see her, so I don’t know if she looks it, but from the reaction of the proprietor, I don’t think she does.

At the circulation desk, a man stands, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he waits for his book to be checked out. He sports a black backpack and a winter cap on his head. As he turns to walk out the door, the crew to my left draws him in. He is one of them. I would have never guessed. He seems so quiet, well-dressed, and he is a reader. You see, you never can tell. Perhaps they come from the same neighborhood, maybe a couple of blocks away, somewhere near the barber shop that also sells bean pies. Homemade.

He leaves the library with one of his buddies, and I can now hear him get louder. Peer pressure at work, or maybe it really is his personality too, when he is with others.

And I sit here still. Invisible.


The Friend Cycle

Some friends are what I call for-the-moment friends, and I don’t mean the kind that ditch you when the going gets rough and you really need them to lean on. I mean those friends who come into your life unexpectedly and leave just as unexpectedly. Yet, after they’re gone you realize they were just what you needed for the time period. Either you were going through something difficult and they could relate, they were a shoulder to cry on when other friends were not around, or they carried you when you couldn’t carry yourself.

They’re kind of like superheroes, with their amazing powers, who help mere mortals from time to time, then retire to other places once you are safe. They’re Superman and you’re Lois Lane, a damsel in distress. And sometimes you’re that Superman, there for others when they need you, but only until they’re well again. Then you move on to the next person who needs you.

This happened to me recently when I was in need of advice and support. Out of nowhere, a marginal friend from Facebook messaged me out of the blue just to say hi, and I took it as a sign. Unburdened myself and immediately felt better. We had a nice long chat and I haven’t heard from him since. But that’s okay because he was there for that period of time when I needed him.

Then I suddenly got the chance to pay that forward when I got the inclination to message someone I felt was hurting. We hadn’t ever really talked before, but I felt led to speak to her. Before I knew it, she was letting it all go, and I just listened. I was that help she needed right then, and I know if she needs me again I will be there for her. But for one night, I was Superman, just like my other friend had been for me. And it feels good both ways.

I honestly believe that god drops people into our lives at strategic points when we desperately need them, and then sends them to others. These for-the-moment friends are amazing angels, and its amazing when we’re given wings too from time to time.


The Friendship Archive

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