The Listener

The Listener


There’s a lot to be said for being a good listener. My favorite guidance counselor in junior high told me that when I was in seventh grade and I never forgot it.


I really hated seventh grade. All of junior high stunk, in my opinion. No one liked me, my face was broken out, I was fat, hiding in food, and felt completely alone in the world. All that was on my mind was being liked by the girls in my class and capturing the attention of whatever mismatched, father-clone-bad-news guy I had set my heart on. My heart was always getting broken and very few people liked me.


My guidance counselor was a like a lighthouse in the storm of middle school. He listened to me and urged me to listen to others.


A lot of the time, all a person needs is to be heard. They don’t need suggestions, ideas, or fixes. They need to express themselves in a safe environment. It’s vital that the person speak their truth and get it out of themselves.


I think I’m a pretty good listener. That is one of my positive character traits. I try and listen no matter how long the person goes on or what they’re saying. I nod and say, “Hmmm,” so they know I’m really hearing them. I try not to comment, judge, or make suggestions. That’s not what they really want or need, nor is it my place to do that. People seem to gravitate to me in this manner. They tend to pour out their soul to me on the spot. They seem to like me to listen to them. I am honored, humbled, and grateful that they feel comfortable sharing with me in this way.
CoDA meetings are full of good listeners. That is what is so cool about program. Crosstalk and feedback are discouraged. This means that we are not supposed to make comments on another’s share, answer them, or make suggestions. We are not supposed to fix, control, manipulate, judge, condemn, direct, scold, compliment, or praise. We are not there to fix each other. We are there to recover. We are there to let the God in others speak to us through their experience, strength, and hope as shared in meetings. We are there to let God speak through our own shares to others. I heard it said in a meeting once that we are there to help one other person in the meeting if we can. I have always remembered that and carry it with me.


I need for someone to listen to me too, so I go to meetings, have a sponsor, and a therapist. When there’s no one available to listen to me, I journal. I write and write until it’s out of me. I always feel better afterwards. If what I’ve written is really negative stuff, then I burn it afterwards. The burning of this negative writing symbolizes the death of those dark feelings. I learned this practice from my therapist and have used it for years. It is a very effective practice for me.

One thing that occasionally inhibits my ability to be a good listener to others is the chatter that goes on in my head. Sometimes my mind wanders and pretty soon I’m worried about the emails and phone calls I have to return, the busy schedule I have on deck for tomorrow, and how I’ll be able to get everything done. When I catch myself in this act, I just bring myself back to the moment and back to active listening.

When this happens, it’s usually a sign that I’m feeling overloaded. I need to bring the listening session to an end and go take care of myself. If I’m unable to listen at that moment, I’ll need to speak up and say so. This is difficult for me because I was taught at an early age to never, ever interrupt people. So I rarely cut people off when they’re speaking. I do get caught in monologues a lot of the time. When this happens, I try to look at it as me being of service to someone. That is me, as they say in program, taking a 12-Step call. The person needs to be heard. I am giving them that sounding board.

I usually engage in negative self-talk when my mind wanders during a share or I consider ending a listening session with someone. I accuse myself of being selfish and self-serving. I need to get over myself and be of service to this individual by giving them an ear.

That is what Jesus would do. He would listen. He wouldn’t be stewing over his endless “to do” list while Peter was pouring his heart out about how he felt like such a schmuck for denying him. Jesus would have listened and he did.

But then there’s a scene in the bible (Luke 4:42 and 5:16), where a huge crowd of people is waiting for Jesus to come and heal them. However he does not stay, but leaves to go and pray to his heavenly father. Wow! Even Jesus takes time to take care of himself. That is comforting. Self-care is in the bible.

My therapist once told me that when others share their troubles with me, it is my job to be a good listener if I choose to do that and if I have time to be there for them. I don’t need to fix their problems, take on their feelings, or obsess about them. I just need to listen. When I’m done listening to them, I can take everything they told me, put it in that imaginary goblet I’ve mentioned before, and offer that goblet up to God. I give it to Him and let it go. He is the only one who can fix it anyway. This practice works well for me so I use it a lot.


My Quaker friend Beth was an excellent listener. She was an incredible human being and gave so much of herself to others in many ways. Her greatest gift was her ability to listen to others without judgment. She could find something good in everyone and everything. That is a unique and rare gift. I miss her and I want to be like her in that way; kind, loving, giving, with an incredible ability to listen without condemnation.


I can learn to be like her if I learn to listen without judgment to my own troubles, fears, inadequacies, failures, inner-most pain, and disappointments. I have to learn to love myself enough to believe I don’t deserve to hurt like that. Then I need to do what’s necessary to take care of and heal myself. That means journaling, worship, meditation, working the steps, going to meetings (CoDA and Quaker), sharing, listening, doing service work, doing my music, art, writing, and occasionally sitting down and just breathing in and out.

I will strive to continue to be a good listener to others and to myself, to the best of my ability.


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