Don't just do something, stand there

Next time you want to fix someone’s problems, try listening instead

Kim Ridley | July/Aug 2006 issue
On a summer day, longtime youth worker John Bell was walking down the street when he saw a boy fall off his bicycle and skin his knee. The boy grimaced in pain as he clutched his knee, but he didn’t make a sound. Bell knelt down, pointed to the boy’s knee and said, “That must hurt!” The boy screamed, “Yes, it really hurts!” and burst into tears.
Bell sat next to the boy as he continued to sob. Eventually, the boy began pointing to scars on his body and telling how he got them. “It was as if he had never had a chance to tell someone completely enough how much it hurt or how scared he was,” Bell told me later. After a time of telling the stories of his scars, the boy grew confident and happy. He got back on his bike and rode away down the street. On that hot day, John Bell didn’t ignore the boy’s pain or try to “fix” it. He didn’t try to quiet the boy when he started crying. Instead, he sat down and acknowledged the boy’s suffering. Most beautiful of all, as Bell listened, the boy talked until he essentially healed himself.
Daily life serves up many opportunities for us to bear witness to each other. Doing so can provide a powerful antidote to feeling numb and overwhelmed. That doesn’t mean trying to “solve” anyone’s problems, but giving the gift of our full attention. It all begins with doing less and listening more.
“When we acknowledge each other’s despair, we transform it,” says trauma expert and Harvard psychology professor Kaethe Weingarten, author of Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day—How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal (Dutton Adult, 2003). “This is the essence of compassionate witnessing. That’s why even a small gesture can have great impact.”
Weingarten has devoted her life’s work to “compassionate witnessing,” the term she coined for a process that transforms feelings of helplessness at human suffering into healing action. It is rooted in listening with a calm and quiet mind, a commitment to understanding the other and a willingness to be changed by what one hears.
Although Weingarten has taught compassionate witnessing in violence-torn communities in South Africa and Kosovo, she says anyone can use this practise in daily life. She offers the example of overhearing a customer’s unprovoked rudeness to a cashier in the checkout line at the supermarket. Saying something like, “I’m sorry that person was rude to you, and I hope the rest of your day goes better,” can be genuinely helpful. “That may not feel like it’s going to make a big difference in the world,” Weingarten says. “But I believe in ripple effects.” Listening can be harder than we think, however, according to Andrew Weiss, who writes about “deep listening” in Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness (New World, 2004). Weiss says our own agendas and preconceptions often prevent us from listening with clarity to others. Emotions like fear and anxiety can instill in us a sincere but misguided desire to “fix” someone else’s problem.
“We all have a ‘Mr. or Ms. Fix-It’ inside of us,” Weiss says. “But if we’re in fix-it mode, we’ve created a barrier between ourselves and the other person. My wife was the one to wake me up to this. Many years ago, she was really upset about something and I immediately started offering suggestions. She told me, ‘I don’t need you to fix this. I need you to listen.’ I realized how incredibly disempowering it is for the other person to try to ‘fix’ them. When we do, we’re saying to them that they can’t trust themselves or their instincts to know what’s right for them in their lives.”
Whether we’re listening to a loved one or a stranger on the sidewalk, we possess surprising power to help others. Attentive listening is anything but passive. In a world in which it seems everyone is talking and few are being truly heard, listening might be one of the tools we most need to make a better future.
 

Solution News Source

Don't just do something, stand there

Next time you want to fix someone’s problems, try listening instead

Kim Ridley | July/Aug 2006 issue
On a summer day, longtime youth worker John Bell was walking down the street when he saw a boy fall off his bicycle and skin his knee. The boy grimaced in pain as he clutched his knee, but he didn’t make a sound. Bell knelt down, pointed to the boy’s knee and said, “That must hurt!” The boy screamed, “Yes, it really hurts!” and burst into tears.
Bell sat next to the boy as he continued to sob. Eventually, the boy began pointing to scars on his body and telling how he got them. “It was as if he had never had a chance to tell someone completely enough how much it hurt or how scared he was,” Bell told me later. After a time of telling the stories of his scars, the boy grew confident and happy. He got back on his bike and rode away down the street. On that hot day, John Bell didn’t ignore the boy’s pain or try to “fix” it. He didn’t try to quiet the boy when he started crying. Instead, he sat down and acknowledged the boy’s suffering. Most beautiful of all, as Bell listened, the boy talked until he essentially healed himself.
Daily life serves up many opportunities for us to bear witness to each other. Doing so can provide a powerful antidote to feeling numb and overwhelmed. That doesn’t mean trying to “solve” anyone’s problems, but giving the gift of our full attention. It all begins with doing less and listening more.
“When we acknowledge each other’s despair, we transform it,” says trauma expert and Harvard psychology professor Kaethe Weingarten, author of Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day—How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal (Dutton Adult, 2003). “This is the essence of compassionate witnessing. That’s why even a small gesture can have great impact.”
Weingarten has devoted her life’s work to “compassionate witnessing,” the term she coined for a process that transforms feelings of helplessness at human suffering into healing action. It is rooted in listening with a calm and quiet mind, a commitment to understanding the other and a willingness to be changed by what one hears.
Although Weingarten has taught compassionate witnessing in violence-torn communities in South Africa and Kosovo, she says anyone can use this practise in daily life. She offers the example of overhearing a customer’s unprovoked rudeness to a cashier in the checkout line at the supermarket. Saying something like, “I’m sorry that person was rude to you, and I hope the rest of your day goes better,” can be genuinely helpful. “That may not feel like it’s going to make a big difference in the world,” Weingarten says. “But I believe in ripple effects.” Listening can be harder than we think, however, according to Andrew Weiss, who writes about “deep listening” in Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness (New World, 2004). Weiss says our own agendas and preconceptions often prevent us from listening with clarity to others. Emotions like fear and anxiety can instill in us a sincere but misguided desire to “fix” someone else’s problem.
“We all have a ‘Mr. or Ms. Fix-It’ inside of us,” Weiss says. “But if we’re in fix-it mode, we’ve created a barrier between ourselves and the other person. My wife was the one to wake me up to this. Many years ago, she was really upset about something and I immediately started offering suggestions. She told me, ‘I don’t need you to fix this. I need you to listen.’ I realized how incredibly disempowering it is for the other person to try to ‘fix’ them. When we do, we’re saying to them that they can’t trust themselves or their instincts to know what’s right for them in their lives.”
Whether we’re listening to a loved one or a stranger on the sidewalk, we possess surprising power to help others. Attentive listening is anything but passive. In a world in which it seems everyone is talking and few are being truly heard, listening might be one of the tools we most need to make a better future.
 

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM


We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy