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Monday, February 20, 2017

Learning to Listen

Full disclosure: I am sick, a feel like crap. I've had a really tough week, and coughing has meant I'm fairly sleep-deprived. I'm not coming from a place of strength and confidence just now. Sometimes I question whether or not I should even share anything with you all when I feel like this, but inevitably, one of you will thank me for doing so. I appreciate that, it means a lot to me, so here goes.

I had a really nice birthday dinner last night. It was small (family) and at my favorite restaurant. It was late, but doo doo happens, as do giant snow storms, sick siblings and what not. But it was nice just the same. My sister made me a giant pink cake that was everything. It wasn't fancy, it had had to travel a bit, but it was big, pink perfection. Sometimes it's a giant pink birthday cake that makes all things right with the world, and this was one of those times. But I felt like sh**, and a little bit gutted if we're being perfectly honest (again, tough week), and it made me more vulnerable than usual. You know how it goes.

I don't get to see my loved ones often, so when I do I like to catch up a little. I was talking about something that was bothering me about the current state of things, when another loved one interjects with "That's bullshit". It wasn't bullshit. It was something I actually knew quite a bit about. But in order to avoid a "thing" I just clammed up. But that's what we do to each other, isn't it? It didn't matter that I was stating an actual fact. I was silenced by an opinion. Any other day I would have been pretty 'whatever' about it, but I am just so fried. It highlights a problem that is actually pretty huge and relevant right now. Everybody has something to say, but nobody wants to listen. Double that if you dislike the facts. No good will ever come of that.

It reminds me of when I was a child in elementary school. I hated school with a fiery passion. The work bored me to tears, and I've never liked being around a lot of people. I've never been what could be considered anti-social, but I'm definitely an introvert in the extreme. Always have been. Going to a place that made me feel profoundly anxious every day (to the point of physical symptoms), just to be inundated with things I already knew, was like living in hell. I was going to try to find a less dramatic way to put that, but why sugar coat it? There was some discussion about having me skip a grade or two, but my lack of social whatever prevented them from doing so. My subsequent (and inevitable) lack of engagement in the classroom was apparently enough cause for concern that a child psychologist was brought in to deal with with me. He was nice guy with a PhD who meant well and worked with lots of troubled children. I think his only failing was that he'd never been one himself, so there was a giant gap in his perspective that his PhD couldn't fill. That in itself didn't need to be a problem, but he came into the situation predisposed to believe certain things, and he approached me and my issues with those preconceived ideas. Consequently, he didn't listen. He heard things that he wanted to hear, things that supported what he believed. The things that were the most real and important were discarded outright because they didn't fit the narrative he believed in. He was in a position to recognize something in me that, had he been able to see it, my whole life could have been different. Instead, he made suggestions and implemented situations on my behalf that did a whole wide world of damage. Because he couldn't/wouldn't hear me.

I don't bring this sh** up because I'm still grieving it or haven't moved on or any of that nonsense. I think the past is important because it provides context. It's supposed to teach us something and give us some perspective. You have to know what's wrong before you can fix it. But I think getting stuck there, and making every decision based on the past is a ginormous mistake. It's possible to get so stuck in "what was" that we lose the ability to learn and grow. Ahem. But I think the *listening* piece doesn't lose relevance. Failure in our ability to listen to each other is at the root of every social problem we have. It's the reason we have riots and protests. People are so fired up about what to do about this group of people or that one, but nobody is asking the people directly involved. Nobody is willing to hear the answers because they've already made up their minds. Instead, they discredit, dismiss and invalidate, throwing away the truth because it doesn't fit an accepted (albeit flawed/false) narrative that they are more comfortable with. It's like saying "Stop telling me who you are and what you need, because it doesn't mesh with what I think I know about you, and I don't like looking at reality". And that determination to make everything about numbers and policies, about ideologies and money, it's killing us. And sometimes it feels like watching it play out day after day is killing something in me. Don't worry, I won't let it. I won't be sick much longer and I'll get my equilibrium back.

But it's so damned important to listen. Until we're able to understand how profoundly our personal biases influence our beliefs about others, we'll never be able to relate at all to each other.  As long as nobody is willing to listen to the truth, it's all just noise.

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