Monday, 13 April 2009
You cannot see what I see.
You cannot feel the emotional weight of this room, or know the significance of that cushion, made by a friend and stuffed with secrets.
You do not know the impact of that brocade throw, treasured by my mother and trashed by the dog in in a fit of pique which apparently involved a biscuit.
You do not know where the Christmas presents and Easter eggs have been hidden year after year, and you cannot know who spilled what on the carpet and what the consequences were. You don't know which pictures are mine, which my husband's, which my father's. Where did that desk-set come from? You haven't a clue. (Correction - if you have, you're one of the family or a very close friend!)
The view is distorted, not only by the convex mirror, but mainly by the emotional content.
Emotional content distorts all our views, much of the time. Sadness, anger, joy, guilt, depression, contentment; the whole gamut may act like this convex mirror, changing the shape, emphasising some aspects, pulling things into different places.
For many years I have been trained as a listener: first by 'Samaritans' and now by 'Cruse'.
Listening, real listening, is a huge privilege. Sometimes you are invited through the mirror, like Alice, to enter the distorted world beyond. Sometimes, quite often, it is not right to do this. Sometimes, more often, it is wiser to stay side by side, looking into the mirror and trying to understand the distortions.
Being listened to is wonderful. It frees the mind and the heart, and opens possibilities. People do not want advice. (Correction again: if they do, they generally know where to go to find it.) They want to be heard.
One of the more frustrating experiences of Samaritans (who are very carefully and specifically trained not to give advice) is to be thanked by a caller for all the advice. People advise themselves when they are truly heard. They are given the time and attention to talk through the emotions and the distortions and to clarify their thoughts. They may want to keep their distortions, and that is their privilege, too. Some distortions may be more comfortable to keep than to try and change, but it's good when being heard helps you to see that you're doing just that.
Listening is both wonderful and exhausting, which is why organisations like Cruse and counselling services, generally only offer it by the hour. It doesn't have to take an hour, though. Sometimes ten minutes is enough to help someone out of a bad patch and to slightly improve the view.
The other day I was moved to hear a friend simply and eloquently describe her listening skills as ' to listen to the story, to feel the pain, to see it through'.
We all have stories.
We all have pain.
We can look into one another's distorting mirrors and try to see.