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My first class in college was Speech 211, which was Listening, taught by Paul Kaufmann at Iowa State University. I figured that since I would spend a while in lectures, a class in listening could only help.

I enjoyed the class a great deal, and I ended up pursuing speech as a minor. I've told my children over and over that if there is one skill they should strive to attain, it is communication. That, above anything else in my opinion, determines how others will perceive us as ready to succeed in life.

And it's good for our relationships interpersonally. In that spirit, I occasionally grab a book to rethink and improve my communication skills. I bought The Lost Art of Listening recently, and as I read through it, I find it stirring a few things.

We all struggle to be heard and understood. I think that's normal. But a while back, I had someone close to me say that I should try to get to the point that I didn't need any one else in my life. That being single for the rest of my life should become okay. I thought to myself, "Okay. Yes, I suppose I should."

This book challenges that idea, albeit indirectly.

No one listens to us like our spouse. We live in a deep weave of intimacy where we can't help but expose our innermost thoughts and feelings, even if we try to hide them. Unless our spouse is just oblivious, they know when something is amiss. And frankly, it's healthy to be in that state.

Living alone, surrounded by married friends and acquaintances, it's tough to find someone who will know us that well or take the time to listen that thoroughly. A spouse has a vested interest. In fact, I think we bank on that. They listen, as we listen, because it's mutually beneficial. The quality of a married life depends on rich communication.

But let's take the person living alone...

Why, then, do some people say so little about themselves?

The answer is, life teaches them to hold back. The innocent eagerness for appreciation we bring to our earliest relationships exposes us to consequences. Some people are lucky. They get the attention that they need and thereafter approach life with confidence and openness, Others aren't so lucky. They don't get listened to, and as a consequence they avoid opening up. What might appear as modesty in some cases may have more to do with the reluctance to reexpose old wounds. Many people learn instead to channel their need for appreciation into personal ambition or doing things for other people.

Some people become experts at avoidance and cultivate the capacity to be alone. The charm of solitude... is that it provides space for repose and reflection, time for looking within the self, time for creative endeavor. Solitude offers rest and respite from the noisy claims of everyday social living. But some of the penchant for being alone is defensive - an accommodation to being hurt by not being heard. The defenses that form the solitary person's character support a grand illusion: the illusion of self-reliance. If we could only examine the contemplation of one's own feelings that passes for introspection, we'd discover that the silence of the solitary is often filled with imagined conversations.

Unshared thoughts diminish us, not only by making us less authentic and less whole... but also by eating at us relentlessly. Repression is not like putting something away on the closet shelf and forgetting about it; repression takes a constant expenditure of energy that slowly wears us down.

It takes energy to keep the lid firmly on the boiling pot. It takes less energy to just let the thing bubble forth.

I think with single parents who've known that intimacy in listening but then later lost it through separation or divorce, it makes it much harder to remain unattached. With no one there to catch the adult stuff burbling forth from the single parent's pot, children sometimes end up catching more than they should know. It's gotta go somewhere and it's hard to contain it. I've known parents, myself included, who ended up saying something to their children and later wonder why in the heck they told their kids that.

But in reading this, I've removed for myself the goal of being okay with being alone. It's not okay to be alone. It's not our natural state as humans. Doing so would most likely only lead to greater repression.

I love a book that stirs the pot. Reading this book, I understand again that it's very hard to be a good listener. I'm often not the listener that I wish I were, so I appreciate the poke in the ribs.


by Brett Rogers, 8/22/2005 10:21:54 PM


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