To Truly Listen is a Battle

Why do we think it’s cool to not pay attention to each other and listen to the stories we have to tell?  

I am a culprit of this.  I’m afraid anyone who has grown up with tantalizing screens and websites has also been a repeat offender.  We want to seem busy and occupied.  That is a sign of success, right?  If we are always busy and never bored, then we look like we are accomplishing something.  Many of us, including myself, have unknowingly trained ourselves to be more entertained by a screen than the words and stories of our dearest friends.  

We crave close companionship.  We go to parties, excited to interact with many people in close proximity.  But we may never let our phones leave our grasp.  There are countless times when a friend has been telling me a story close to their heart, and my mind will wonder.  My hand will find its way into my pocket, pull out my phone, and begin scrolling on the screen.  I despise it.  I despise myself like this.  Why are we like this?  

I now have witnessed what it is like to truly listen.  For those of you who do not know, I am living in the beautiful town of Decorah, Iowa this summer.  These last few days, I have left my phone behind; there is no service where I am staying.  The internet has been a beautiful treat, not something I am in constant connection with.  And I have felt what it is like to listen and be listened to without distraction of technology – a beautiful, beautiful thing.  

What makes humans different from other species is our ability to be in community together, to groupthink, to sympathize.  We are meant to support each other.  If we truly were animalistic beings only out for ourselves and our own survival, things would have come together so very differently.  But here we are.  We must not forget what makes us so special.  

My hope in these coming days is to leave my phone behind, to listen to people’s stories and take what they say to heart.  Remember: your phone is there for your convenience, no one else’s.  Even if I do not live in this environment forever, my hope is to continue to be truly present in my surroundings and to closely listen to people, whether they are my closest friends or people I just meet.  We all have stories to tell.  Let’s fight the battle and listen.  

 

there’s a fine line between “easy-going” and “a pushover”

Growing up in the Midwest, one of the main things you’re taught to do is to never inconvenience anyone.  Always help others.  Be kind to your neighbors.  But try to be as self-sufficient as possible.  It’s a walking contradiction.  I grew up feeling guilty or indebted to anyone who went out of their way for me, yet was always happy to do that for someone else.  I would never want to upset someone by changing their plans or upsetting the flow they already had going.  

“High-maintenance” was the last thing I ever wanted to be called.  I longed to be described as “go-with-the-flow”, and therefore, I was.  I learned to not share my opinions or contradict others with my own views – someone else always felt more strongly than I did.  I didn’t need to have my way to be happy, so I would let someone else have theirs.  I even found myself not searching or learning enough to have opinions.  Someone else’s was always more important than mine.  They could yell louder, fight harder, argue stronger.  

Fortunately, higher education has made me evaluate the many opinions I could have, and I have formed many foundations for my own value system.  But I have carried some of this with me through college.  I remember instances where I could have and should have stood my ground and told the other person how I felt.  Instead, not wanting to step on any toes, I reasoned with myself. “I cannot change anything they have said or done.  But I can change how I react to this.”  I would talk myself down.  “They didn’t mean to hurt me.  They didn’t mean what they said.  Stop being so sensitive.  It wasn’t me, it was something else going on in their life.  I was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  After enough time, I would have consoled myself to where I had neutral feelings about the matter.  SEE!  NO CONFRONTATION NECESSARY!  THIS IS GREAT!!!

WRONG.

Confrontation is necessary sometimes.  It’s okay to need.  It’s okay to want.  I can ask for help.  It’s okay to voice these things.  It doesn’t mean I have yell or scream; I can talk about my feelings with a reasonable volume and tone.  It doesn’t mean I’m too sensitive.  It doesn’t mean I’m a silly woman.  And it especially doesn’t mean I’m high maintenance.  

My opinion is no more and no less important than anyone else’s.  And sharing what we feel is a vital part of every healthy friendship and relationship.  Honesty really is the best policy, even if it’s hard.  We shouldn’t always get what we want.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t want things altogether.  Asking for help isn’t always an inconvenience – rather, it is an example of living in community, sharing as we were meant to.  

I still would like to be independent; that doesn’t mean I’ll never need help.  I would like to be open-minded; that doesn’t mean I can’t have opinions.  I would like to be easy-going; that doesn’t mean I have to be a pushover.  

 

next chapter

The tiny, somewhat-outdated window air conditioner whirs next to me, trying to keep up with the 80+ degree heat outside.  I sit on my ottoman in my underwear, perspiring in my tiny loft room.  I slowly reach for another jelly bean, left over from the Easter care package I received from my mom in the mail last month (thanks mom).

So.

This is what it feels like. The real world.  My diploma is in the trunk of my car, safely wrapped up in my cap and gown.  I haven’t known what to do with it yet.  My friends are mostly leaving town, dropping like flies, one by one, chasing their dreams.  As sad as it is to part with them, it’s beautiful.  I’m incredibly happy for them.

“Go change the world!”  “Up and at ’em!”  “Put that degree to use!”

The future is bright for us all, the endless possibilities swirling around us, a myriad of “what ifs?” and “who knows?”.  There are always so many questions when a chapter ties up.

“What’s next?”

If each college graduate had a dollar for every time we’ve been asked that, we’d probably have a good chunk of our loans knocked out before we receive our diplomas.  Some of us answer confidently, having a job in place due to hard work and getting your name out there.  Others answer more timidly, stating the few selling points that can possibly provide assurance we’re almost successful adults.

I’m definitely in the timid category.  But I tell you, once I know, I’m sure of it.  For now, there is much work to be done.  Resumes to touch up.  Music to play.  Songs to write.  Finances to budget.  Possibilities to weigh.  And in between that, I can reflect on what’s important, now that all my choices are up to me.  All my choices are up to me, but they have more weight now.  What if I want to travel a lot?  What if I get married?  What if I have a family someday?  I want my future me to thank me for what I’ve done in this questioning time.

Before I make these weighty choices, I can make them with a mind in tune to what matters to me.  I want to try new things and go on adventures.  I want to spend time in creation and marvel at the little things.  I want to take care of myself.  I want to give back to others.  I want my mind to be open and my heart to stay malleable.  I want to love others and myself.  That’s what’s worth living for.

I have only the tiniest inkling of where this path goes.  All I can do is attempt to prepare myself for what lies ahead by cultivating the soil for good things to grow.  I’m excited to sprint blindly, arms wide open, into the future.  But when I’m ready to plant roots, I want them to have a healthy foundation.

For now, I’ll sit here in my underwear, air conditioner puttering, eating jelly beans.  Next chapter.