The Quiet Revolution took the world by storm. People now acknowledge the difference between being shy and being quiet — but I believe we haven’t spoken enough about listening.
I believe listening to someone’s story requires patience, and discipline; we need to refrain from interrupting. But who would listen if we all fight to speak? Who would sit across from us and give us their undivided attention?
Each of us has something we’d like to get off our chests. Be it a heavy burden or the excitement of a family trip that has come around after years of yearning, we love sharing stories; it’s what makes us human. But we also need someone to listen to us: to our rants, our complaints, our expressions of joy and sorrow, of our fears and anxiety. We need a shoulder to lean on, a face to mirror our emotions, or to just have someone listen without judging.
We should listen more. To the people who are closest to us and to the ones we smile at in the corridor every day. There are plenty of people with stories that could sweep us off our feet. Or sometimes, with stories that make us realize how thankless we are for everything life has given us.
It began with a maintenance staff at work. She’s old enough to be my mother, and yet she addresses me as “Madam.” She does cheap labour, and so does her young daughter, whose higher education she cannot afford. The look in her eyes as she notices me and the others swinging by, often in reckless extravagance, isn’t jealousy; it’s compassion. It’s a kind of baffling love and respect for the selfish people who don’t even stop to make eye contact.
I wouldn’t have realized it unless I had listened to her story. And all it took from my side was a tiny smile and a “good morning.” Now every time she sees me, she greets me and enquires about my well being — I can see that she cares. She cares, because I listened when no one else did.
My mother wasn’t much different from the maintenance staff. I talk to her every day, I ramble, rant, complain, worry and sometimes shout at her for her incessant telephone calls, but I hardly ask about her day. I know her routine of course: she’d wake up, make tea, prepare breakfast for two, take her medicines, cook lunch, welcome the maid, have another cup of tea, a break — and then medicines again, lunch, rest for a while, go for a walk, take more pills, then prepare dinner and finally, wait for my father to return. Oh and somewhere in the middle of her day, she calls me at least five times — only to be snapped at.
I decided to listen, because she listened first. When I had no one to share my fears with, she was there. And when she needed me, I listened — as she spoke of her rheumatism, of her problems with her sisters, of her brother’s new business venture — and what that means to her — of how much she is concerned for my brother and his complete disregard for vegetables. It all seems trivial; I’ve told her to take care of herself; that we’d handle ourselves, but the mother within her never takes a break. She needed someone to talk to, she had to open up and express her feelings — and I decided to listen. Because I knew bottling up emotions — however tiny — is a sure path to depression, and I did not want that for my mother.
My mother helped me see the value of listening; everyone’s so busy talking, that no one spares time for the other. In a world that can’t stop talking, listeners are miracles.
People tell me their stories in the belief that I’d hear them out without judging. They talk to me, and feel the burden slide away; they become light and they smile a little wider. I listen to a lot of stories; endless problems and countless perspectives. These stories inspire me, because when you share someone’s thoughts, you have the power to heal heartaches.
I believe it’s medicinal, and I believe in listening.