If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.
— C. M Wallace
I believe I have often accused my husband of ‘hearing’ me, but not actually ‘listening’. There is a huge difference between the two.
This accusation occurs most when I know I have told him something the previous afternoon — like what the plans are for ferrying my daughter to Eisteddfod — only to have him ask me the very same thing in the morning. He didn’t listen.
We are all guilty of this at some point and to varying degrees.
Life is so busy, it is hard sometimes to find time to just sit down and listen. Only listen. Not listen while you are doing something else, but listening with all of your senses and 100% focus.
To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I did this.
And, thinking about it, I have to wonder how much I have missed.
I find the whole concept very similar to when I was learning Japanese. Working in Japan, I would often find myself involved in a long-winded conversation with a native speaker; inevitably I would lose track of what was being said because I had not understood a particular word or phrase. Rather than stop the flow of the discussion, I would stupidly keep nodding, hoping I’d pick it back up, and hoping desperately not to hear the question marker ‘ka’.
It is very much like this if I have a student, one of my own children, or even a colleague, talking to me at length when I am in the middle of something else. I can go through all the ‘listening’ motions — head nodding, ‘uh-huh’, some fleeting eye contact, ‘really?’ — but at some point I either realise I have no idea what the conversation was about, or there is silence because I have been asked a question.
I was reading Lion: A long way home (by Saroo Brierley) this morning and became fixated on the paragraph describing how the teacher listened to Saroo for well over an hour, carefully documenting his memories. Try as I might, I couldn’t recollect a time in my 20 year career I have even come close to doing something like this; and many of us would argue there is no time or opportunity to do so now anyway … crowded curriculum, yada, yada, yada.
But can you imagine what a different place the world would be if we all really listened to each other?
When both of my children were ‘little’ they, like all kids, would prattle on about everything under the sun. I really wish I had taken more time to sit and just listen. Kids have amazing things to say, fascinating perspectives and an ability to open your world up to new thoughts, ideas and possibilities if you let them.
The problem is, if you show them you don’t have the time, or the inclination, to really listen when they are little, being the clever creatures they are, they will soon realise their efforts are in vain, and clam up.
Teenagers are much maligned for their lack of communication. A grunt here, a snort there. (To say nothing of the tone of voice when they do utter more than one syllable.) But then, out of the blue, they want to speak — at great length. It’s weird, slightly disconcerting even, but we need to embrace it.
Recently my daughter has started doing this very thing after dinner. My son naffs off to have his shower (in order to get out of doing the dishes, we suspect). But, my daughter, rather than slope off to her room, as she was doing a couple of months ago, hangs around at the table and actually initiates a conversation.
I kid you not!!
Sometimes the conversation takes on a moderately heated tone (she has a tendency to think she knows everything about everything; for my part, I am stubborn and never give in), but it is conversation we are having with her. And this is something we need to, and are learning to, value.
Here’s hoping these conversations continue.
And, I am thanking my lucky stars I am finally beginning to realise the value of stopping and really listening.
It’s never too late!