I met someone new Friday evening. It is always fun to meet new people, but this person was unusual in that although we were just meeting for the first time, we actually had an extended conversation.
It wasn’t a small talk conversation like you have with a new acquaintance, but a real conversation.
That would have been unusual enough, but I realized that this person was really listening to me. He was really sharing ideas and thoughts. When he wasn’t talking he was listening. I know this because his responses were about what I had just said. He wasn’t thinking about what he would say next while I was talking, causing a disjointed conversation like I have with some people. It was real give and take of words, views and feelings. He didn’t interrupt, but shared as much as I did.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have conversations with people all of the time. One of the things that keeps me happily married is that Tim and I can talk for hours. But we are all guilty of being in a hurry, cutting people off and thinking beyond what is being said at the moment.
For someone who is different from me in gender, race and profession, I felt honored and heard to have had a conversation that was real and relaxed just standing in a parking lot, shooting the breeze with someone I had not met an hour before.
The next day, I had my last workshop with the kids I’ve been working with this semester. Next Saturday they will present what they’ve worked on and another semester will be over. As I sat and chatted with the kids before class, I realized how open they are to sharing what they think and dream. It wasn’t necessarily that way back in February when we began.
I purposely spent a big part of the semester letting them get used to each other and to me so that we could really do some character development during the last part of the workshop. Some of them were really shy and I wanted them to open up to me and to each other. To talk with them and see how they have grown during this process has been exceptionally rewarding.
Yesterday I had lunch with my son and he shared some of his dreams and I shared some of mine. Some of our dreams are the same! To listen to him and see how his mind works, so different from mine and yet in some ways a lot alike, makes my heart sing. He is an amazing, thoughtful young man and sharing conversation with him is my greatest joy.
Today I mailed a letter to someone who refuses to listen, but I felt the need to try one last time. Always the optimist, I am hopeful that something I say will be heard. Also a realist, I have my doubts. Not being heard for years on end is the worst kind of frustration.
After mailing the letter I went to a lunch meeting where I talked theatre for two hours with someone who is more practical and yet more courageous than I. We discussed the next few years and the plans we have. I tried to be coherent and tried to listen. When the meeting was over I said, “Wow, I believe we actually solved a lot of the world’s problems! Too bad everyone can’t have meetings like this!”
I was, of course, joking. Planning a theatre season and dreaming of what we want to grow into will hardly change the world. But maybe it will change our little part of the world. And maybe we can be an example of how people can carry on a true conversation, share ideas, compromise when those ideas are different and rejoice when they are the same.
Maybe if we really listened to each other and really heard the other person, where they are coming from, what they see in their future, why they believe what they believe, and what they dream of, we could make a huge difference in their world.
Our minister talked about listening this past Sunday and he said that everyone wants to be heard. I so agree with that. We don’t have to agree with them, just hear them. We won’t get anywhere if we only listen to our own voices and the voices that echo our own. We won’t grow if we never entertain any ideas but our own.
It is surprising what we have in common when we openly share and actively listen to each other. It is amazing how children will talk when they know you accept them and are really listening. It is astonishing how freeing it is when you feel heard and how much more you understand someone when you really hear them. It is stunning how honored someone can feel just because you didn’t rush them, but took the time to talk, listen and share with them.
So put down the phone, turn off the TV, close down the computer and take a few minutes to really share ideas with someone. Really listen, it is eye opening.