Thanks to both great genes and growing up such atmosphere, I have the marketable quality of being able to converse with a brick wall. Not just a nod & “how you doin’?” but a full out conversation about the wall’s feelings and inner make up of rock and mortar (“really, so they they add the water after and then mix it on the board? Intriguing!). Yes, I thank my parents for this unique and sometimes tragic gift. It consistently makes me the last person out of church, no matter if I go to my own church or not. Husband loves that.
My father has the trait by nature, probably a gift from my grandmother. It’s fascinating, actually. He’ll ask a question, listen to your answer and actually be interested in your perspective. Now, he’s not perfect… he’ll probably ask “what?” a few times. One of my favorite examples of this was when we were in Mexico and took a cab to the market. Dad would ask – in English – a question to the cabbie. Sister or I would translate. Cabbie would answer, in Spanish. Sister or I would translate. We thought Dad was just being polite until he KEPT ASKING QUESTIONS. Oh, it drove us crazy. But that’s his nature.
Now my mother’s talking skills come from trade. As a hair dresser, you take “chatting with ackward people 102” in beauty school. I’ve been to a stylist who got a C in that class. Not comfortable.
However, in my ability to chat comes a tendency to find common ground. This, my friends, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not all the time. But it can be.
I’m finding that my lack of empathy and understanding of others comes when I same-plane them. I put whatever they’re dealing with into the realm of my own experiences. I do it as a way to understand, but what actually happens is that I belittle their experiences. Case in point, next time I hear a mom complain about her baby not sleeping, the temptation will be to great to not say, “oh, we’ve been there, it’s awful, it lasted at least 3 weeks…” But her child not sleeping is not like my child not sleeping. Though I want her to feel as if she’s not alone in her struggle, I need also to pay attention that I don’t make her feel as if her struggle is invalid. When a person is down and out, the last thing they want to hear is how someone has it worse – it only makes them hate their situation AND feel like a whiner.
So this is my Lentan quest. To listen, to ask, and to keep myself out of it. When I hear a story, to not feel compelled to offer my own version of it. To talk about myself less and the other person more. In my conversations with KLR about “what this will look like”, I’ve had to nail down some specifics about my Lent. So by “talking about myself less” I don’t mean that I won’t answer questions about what’s going on with me and my family when asked. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop blogging about my life because, frankly, it’s what keeps me sane. But rather, I’ll stop talking about myself in the context of conversations to and about others. And I hope that 40 days from now I’ll be a better, more compassionate listener.