Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It Only Takes a Moment

She rested her hand, briefly, on his arm. The contrast between the colours of skin did not compare to that of her frail papery skin and his young strong arm. She looked at him with intensity and spoke with passion. Even in the back of the van I could hear her voice as it rose and fell. Something important was being said.

Throughout her story he would glance at her and nod, when she paused he clearly waited for her to continue. He gave verbal encouragers - uh, huh, I hear you, that upset you didn't it. I was amazed at his facility with language. He followed her along word for word, emotion for emotion. A couple of times, overcome, she put her handkerchief to her mouth and paused. A dramatic effect she no doubt used often in her life. Then she was back to the story.

We arrived at a center for the elderly just as she was finishing her story. He helped her out and walked with her right into the building. When he got back in I asked him how he learned Italian. He said, I don't speak a word of it. I looked surprised.

"When I was younger I thought that people wanted to be understood, now I know that most people simply want to be listened to. I can do this for people. Easy."

He then dropped me off at work and again, waited until I was in the building even though I assured him I was fine.

On and off during the day, I thought about what he said. I don't completely agree, there are times when I really do want to be understood - but failing that, it's true, I also like to know I've been listened to.

When I arrived home, Joe dropped me off at the front of the building then went to park the car. One of the older tenants came out and said something to me, I think about the weather, in a language I didn't understand. I smiled and nodded. Clearly encouraged he continued on, said something that struck him funny and he laughed. It was easy to laugh with him. What about the weather isn't funny these days. He waved a farewell greeting and went on.

What did he say? I'm not sure except I'm fairly sure he said, 'I'd like to speak to someone today, I'd like someone to smile at me, I'd like to make my favourite joke about this blasted Canadian weather.' Then, I'm pretty sure he said, 'You're a good boy for listening to an old man.'

But, then I could be wrong. And I don't care. I loved the smile he left our interchange with. Perhaps I speak more languages than I thought.


Belinda said...

What a great reminder to work at listening well today. Like most other people, I don't do as well at this as I wish I did, finding my mind jumping off on all sorts of tangents while "listening," and waiting to share them when there's a pause.

I want to focus on the person in front of me as wholeheartedly as that man in the van did.

Someone once told me that they have a sign in their office behind where people usually sit, saying, WAIT, which stands for Why Am I Talking. I'm seriously thinking of putting one up.

Well, today is a new day, and I'm inspired to do better. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I read this and I was saddened by ME. To realize that I am not a good listener not only to the elderly but to a good many ppl.

Thankyou for pointing out what it takes to be a considerate human and not a animal.

I am headed out to see if I can use this new skill .

The Fun Mum said...

There's a time and place, agreed. However, too many times I've seem my daughter in conversation with new people who have smiled, nodded blankly and walked on. And I think she speaks relatively well, tho' sometimes out of context (or without setting the appropriate amount of context). I often wish these folks would take a moment and say "hey, I didn't quite understand, could you tell me again, or use different words?" and have a meaningful conversation, not just a well meaning one. KWIM?

Anonymous said...

Not sure why this is so but this post reminds me of my favourite all time post of yours Dave....Poco Hor!
Love to you...LinMac( Linda)

Lauren said...

I love this post. It is so true. Sometimes all we want is to be listened to. It is wonderful when we can return the favor.

Andrea S. said...

I'm pretty much with "Fun Mum" here. As a deaf person, I do sometimes get exactly the kind of polite, fake smile and nod reaction from people who don't quite understand my speech on the first attempt. I do speak clearly enough, at least for most American native speakers, most of the time, provided that there isn't too much background noise or other distraction. Some people even claim not to notice anything different about my speech at all. But there are still times when people don't quite understand the first time I say something, or even the third. And the fake "nod and smile" infuriates me: I think usually they just don't want to "hurt my feelings" by admitting they don't understand, but all they're actually doing is sending the message that they don't care enough about me to invest a little time and effort in listening to me repeat myself a time or two, or watching me write it down. It is frustrating enough in minor situations, but aggravating when I'm trying to communicate something specific that I need for them to understand.

I do agree there can be a time and place for just "listening" without understanding. And the two situations you describe sound like they might fit.

But it has to be judged carefully: What if they're trying to tell you something that requires action, like, "I'm thirsty and have had nothing to drink for the past five hours on this hot day," or "Is that your credit card that you dropped on the sidewalk there?"

It can sometimes be the same in reverse: I get frustrated when hearing people immediately give up trying to repeat themselves the minute they realize that I'm deaf and didn't understand them the first time. I suppose some of them are just embarrassed, but I find it insulting, as if they're sending the message that suddenly I'm not worth associating with, or that I'm so much of a non-person that I haven't the right to know even the most basic, trivial things that are going on around me.

Kristin said...

You are a good person Dave. I am very thankful and grateful I came across your blog during ICLW.