• Lara Flanagan

The art of listening

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

I am a wannabe minimalist. By that I mean, I embrace the concept of minimalism but I am a work in progress. One of the hardest things for me to do was to cull my books, but now I love the idea of passing books on so others can enjoy them, receiving books from others, and borrowing from the library. I am also amazed at how much I love my cottage without the hundreds of books I owned that I probably would never have read again.

At the moment I am re-reading some of my favourite books to work out if they are one of the few books I want to keep, or if I would prefer to hand them on. One of those favourite books included ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom. I have been a bit quiet in terms of blogging lately but I was not really sure as to the reason. When I read this passage from ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, it articulated perhaps why I felt like I had momentarily lost the urge to write.

“He did this better than anyone I’d ever known. Those who sat with him saw his eyes go moist when they spoke about something horrible, or crinkle in delight when they told him a really bad joke. He was always ready to openly display the emotions so often missing from my baby boomer generation. We are great at small talk: “What do you do?” “Where do you live?” But really listening to someone – without trying to sell them something, pick them up, recruit them, or get some kind of status in return – how often do we get this anymore? I believe many visitors in the last few months of Morrie’s life were drawn not because of the attention they wanted to pay to him but because of the attention he paid to them. Despite his personal pain and decay, this little old man listened the way they always wanted someone to listen.”

I am not very good with noise, one of the reasons I love my little home in the ‘field. I guess towards the end of last year, everything got too noisy for me. The whole incredible world of social media, the world wide web, and the ability to comment online almost anywhere you want has made many of us overly opinionated. Perhaps this phenomenon of everyone having a voice if they want it has contributed to fact that many of us have lost the most beautiful art of listening.

I was never a power user of the old phone but I do work from home and rely on social media, my blog, and other online activities for my income. But this year I have made an effort to put down the phone when it matters. If I am going out to dinner with the kids I don’t take my phone, but it amazes me how often devices still emerge. If you are ever out at a café or restaurant, take the time to look at the number of people who have one eye on their phones and one eye on their devices. It was something that initially fascinated me and now saddens me. Not one of those people is listening.

If you are ever foolish enough to delve into the comments of a newspaper article online or a post about almost anything on social media, you will see a whole lot of people who are not listening. Everyone is just sharing their opinions. Opinions that often reflect they never even read the article about which they are commenting. This multitude of opinions also seems to reflect a whole lot of anger.

Our lack of listening is not confined to the online world. A long time ago I had a friend who used to get annoyed at me for not talking to her about my health. She would ask me questions and if I answered and said that I was having issues with fatigue, she would then tell me how tired she was. If I told her I had pain, she would tell me about her ailments. It got to the point where I stopped responding as she needed to talk more than she needed to listen.

This person was also the first to get cross at me for not asking for help. I am not remotely averse to asking for help when I need it. But this particular person would only help in the way she wanted to help. Say I needed help feeding my pet rat. She would say of course I can help. I would tell her my rat needed feeding on Wed and Sat with the food I prepared and I would thank her profusely. She would then feed my rat on Monday and Tuesday and would not use my food as my food sucked and she would move the rat hutch to a shady spot because it was all around a better scenario than the one I had. I would get home to a dead rat or a constipated rat and I would then have to move the hutch back to where it was because the place she had it in was infested with killer ants. If you can only help someone in the way you want to help them and you can’t listen to what they need, then that is not really helping. I stopped asking this person for help as their help exhausted me.

On our last trip in the van I was sitting on the step and a friendly-looking man walked by and asked me how old Tiney-Boppa was. I am always delighted to talk about Tiney-Boppa so I thought a happy conversation would ensue. Instead, 60 seconds into the conversation he asked me if I was a woman of faith and my heart sank. I genuinely don’t care what you believe in, who you sleep with, who or what you vote for, or what you eat, but please don’t shove it down my throat. As I walked away he aggressively recommended that I read certain chapters of a certain bible. I knew that that man had closed his ears to the world a long time ago.

Something I have learned over the last few years is that the more we listen, the more we hear. When I get to the end of my life, I don’t want to think I missed it. I don’t want to think I missed random conversations with my kids because I was checking my emails when they could have waited for tomorrow. I don’t want to miss the sunrise because I was too engrossed looking up #sunrise. I don’t want to be so busy posting #busylife that I never realised that being busy is not a badge of honour, but more a questionable decision as to how to live. I don’t want to spend my life chasing status symbols when if I had listened I would have heard that I had everything I needed to live my life in a way that was grand.

This year, I have been trying to focus on my listening and doing more by doing less. I have been listening to the world and continuing to find my beautiful. Reminding myself that I don’t need to have an opinion on everything and that you can learn a lot more by listening to the opinions of others even if you don’t agree with them and think they are bat shit crazy. I have been listening to my body that was telling me I needed some rest. I have been listening to my kids who just needed to be heard. I have been listening to Kevin and Rosie who simply wanted to take over my entire cottage. I have been doing a whole lot of listening which is why I have been a little quiet.

What I have learned is that listening is perhaps the most powerful gift we can give, not only to those who inhabit our world but to ourselves.

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