The Gift of Listening

What I am reading often influences my posts. On my drive to this hotel, I listened to Brene Brown’s latest book Braving the Wilderness, and I pondered her wisdom. Her thoughts triggered mine, and as I drove, I began to plan what I might write.

Then I arrived, checked in, pressed the up button for the elevator, and heard it begin its journey to me. And I was no longer motivated to write about Brene’s wisdom. (Don’t worry. I’ll revisit it soon.) Instead, as the moving lift pushed air from around it, through the cracks of the closed doors, and to me, it washed me with memories.

You see, that air smelled like my daddy. It smelled mechanical. Greasy maybe? It smelled like a day of hard work and arms strong enough to move the world. It smelled like the kind of integrity that made the hard decisions and lived their consequences. It smelled like tractors and factories and trucks.

My father was these things, and he was the crisp, cold scent of winter and the loamy, sunshine smell of a summer garden. He was wisdom shared along a sewn row or a frozen road. He was contemplative silence and thoughtful conversation.

I never met anyone who didn’t respect him or who didn’t think and expect more of me because he was my father.

Daddy taught me a great many lessons about life and people. One of the most important was to truly listen though I have to admit that I have had to relearn this lesson more than once. He told me many times that everyone has something to teach me if only I could be astute enough to hear them. He emphasized that even those who seemed most different from me or who on the surface came across as intellectually disabled or who were labeled as insane or were otherwise marginalized could be the source of wonderful insights — if only I would take the time to truly hear what they have to say.

I think our world is losing this skill of listening. Instead, we stand by while others talk, and we formulate our rebuttals or calculate our contributions to the conversation. Or worse, we listen to them with one ear and the video we just found on Facebook with the other. We have lost the skill of looking at someone and watching the pain or the joy of their story unfold in their eyes. We miss the details that frame the lessons, so we miss the lessons, too. When we hear someone say something that is counter to our beliefs, we shut them out instead of questioning them and sitting respectfully attentive to their answer so that we might see their experience of humanity that has influenced it. We have lost our ability to challenge and be challenged by another’s thoughts and learn from that exchange without thinking less of each other for our differing beliefs. I think this is why our world is falling apart.

My daddy wasn’t exactly the most open minded person. He was hamstrung by a rearing in the rural deep south, and he was influenced by his deep faith in God and the King James version of His word. Despite his deep seated beliefs, though, he could sit with anyone and share ideas. He might condemn Islam or Buddhism, but he would learn from their practitioners. He would definitely rib a man about his long hair, but he’d see the person underneath and hear his words and learn from his story.

I wish this for all of us, that we can sit with each other and all of our differences and see the people we are, the shared humanity, and have a conversation in which we all truly listen and learn.

Come to think of it, this post does reflect some of Brene’s points after all. I suppose Daddy and she would have gotten along quite well.

This story and all related material are the original works of Estora Adams. All rights reserved.

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