Life and Health

The First Step to Helping is Listening

“The first step to helping is listening.”

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

In a rare moment of parenting wisdom, I said this to my daughter on our way to participate in a local Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service and I realized that this was as profound for me as it was for her.

I am routinely one that jumps into action, many times before I know the whole story or all the details. I am a swift “fixer.” I leap whether you’ve asked for my help and advice or not. I tend to start brainstorming answers and then attempt to implement them when they’re usually half-baked and not ready for consumption yet.

I fear stewing in a problem. I want to tackle it and deal with it ASAP. I know my energy is sometimes unappreciated because I just want to DO SOMETHING.

If I’m taking steps, we will at least make progress, if I’m stewing the problem will just grow in my mind.

I am often someone who would rather throw solutions at the wall and see what sticks instead of sitting around and thinking about a problem; I have very rarely in my life suffered from what I call “analysis paralysis”. I have never sat and thought about something for very long so when this statement came out I almost had to shut my mouth because I don’t model this very well.

It almost sounded like I was reading a fortune cookie of parenting but I realized that I need to practice what I preach. I am working more on being an ally (as a verb) this year and one of the things I need to work on during this journey the most is shutting up and not taking up space.

I like to take up ALLLLLLLL the space, I like to do all the talking, and I am recognizing that this might not always be the most helpful especially because I tend to jump on the “let’s get this done!” bandwagon too fast. I like to start trying anything as opposed to waiting to take the perfect step or make the perfect decision. Some of you may envy my inability to stop and think because maybe you wish you were more reckless or you took more actions, or opened your mouth right then and there instead of having the perfect come back at two am but let me tell you, sometimes it definitely bites me in the ass.

While I generally appreciate my “go get it” attitude there are definitely times when I need to shut up and listen. Not only as a cis, hetero, white woman (and a Karen at that) trying to be an ally but also as someone who has interpersonal relationships that often go awry because I open mouth-insert foot more often than I care to admit.

I tend to believe I have all the answers even if they are undeveloped or harebrained schemes; I dig into my own “rightness” so hard that I will follow one of these underdeveloped plans off a cliff because I just have to keep going with it despite all the signs that tell me to stop and turn back (see all the arguments with my partner when I refuse to give up or back down).

But this statement to my daughter, just randomly as we were driving, made me pause and realize that part of my work this year is definitely going to be practicing active listening in all spaces and areas of my life. I also need to not retreat from those areas or spaces because I’m afraid I’ll overstep my bounds; it is not better that I don’t show up, I need to learn to show up but then sit on my hands and potentially cover my mouth, either figuratively or literally, so I can be an active listener and hear what people need from me not just what I want to give them.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

The survival of humanity on many levels, from the interpersonal to the global, rely on us being willing to stop and listen to each other. 

As Margaret Wheatly says in the poem, “Turning to One Another”:

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

Rely on human goodness. Stay together


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