Sunday, July 31, 2011

Them or me?

There are times when I get so turned on by someone's cheer or statement, that I really want to go into long-lecture mode.  Truth be told, I often do go into long-lecture mode. Then, as friends know, I engage in the academic practice of citing the sources of my evidence and mentioning several books that relate to what I am saying.

But Just Listen and What Really Helps make clear that the most helpful thing for friends is to just listen.  (See?  I did it again.  I am thinking that one or two readers of this blog might be interested in more authoritative and experienced voices on the subject of when and how to listen so I insert the titles linked to Amazon pages.  Don't let that distract you, please.)

I think there are several different sorts of impulses that interfere with full listening.  As happens to me sometimes, the speaker's idea or enthusiasm inflames my imagination and my eagerness to augment and extend what they are saying.  I am often able to concentrate on the person's inner guidance and let it emerge, but if I get worried that maybe I am not doing enough to empathize and offer solace, I may hog the floor with further statements of sympathy or even advice about what the person should do about what is vexing them.  I try to remember Sylvia Boorstein's advice "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There".  And there is the ubiquitous "saving from error" impulse, where your statement clearly shows you have incorrect ideas and I try to persuade you to mend your ways and take up the path of the right way.  

We are reading The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose, a journalism major from Brown University who transers to the Jerry Falwell school called Liberty University to see what a rather heavily Christian Fundamentalist campus is like.  He does not have a background in that religion, having grown up with liberal Quaker parents.  The best thing about the book is his ability to note and experience positive aspects ot the atmosphere, student conduct rules and curriculum.  He volunteers for a school-sponsored trip to Daytona Beach during spring break specifically aimed at converting vacationing college students there to take up the path thought by the evangelists to be the only route for avoiding damnation after death.  The mission is a very stressful one and not very successful.  Despite the convictions of those on the mission, those approached do not in general appreciate the message delivered.

When someone has a problem, I want to listen.  On social occasions where others want a show or a statement, talking may be appreciated.  In college classes, where people have paid to find out something from me, I may have a duty to have a message and give it.  But as educators and parents find out, the old idea of what is expressed is impressed, statements often have their strongest effect on the speaker.

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