Listening Below the Surface

Most people listen selectively. There’s really nothing wrong with that. We can’t listen to everything. In each situation, we need to determine how, what, how much, and where to listen. We can listen and learn anyplace. Life takes place in little vignettes.

At the Cleaners……

My dry cleaner establishment is remodeling, producing strain on already-limited parking. The other day, several of us were frustrated when we finally arrived at the counter.

One woman said, “Are you going to have more parking when all this construction is complete?” The wise counter person deferred to the owner standing nearby. The not-so-wise owner responded to the words of the question rather than taking into consideration the frustration in the customer’s voice and energy field.

His well-rehearsed dissertation gave us plenty of facts: one parking space is lost to the construction, persons pose as customers to try to fool the parking attendant, a plan of parking validation, etc. But the Right-Now-in-the-Moment situation with real-live human beings with emotions and needs was essentially ignored.

Had he listened to the information beneath the surface of the words of his customer’s question, he would have presented us with fewer facts and perhaps said something like, “We have several plans for improving the parking — it’s quite frustrating right now, isn’t it?” A compassionate statement such as this would have diffused the frustration, let her know that he heard the words of the question and more, and invited her to take the conversation in any direction she wanted, if at all.

On the Airplane……

On a flight to Vancouver, I appreciated observing one flight attendant engaging with the passengers. Here is one incident. The attendant spilled hot water near a passenger. He quickly grabbed napkins to mop up the mess, none of which ever touched the passenger. When nearly done, the flight attendant looked at her with a friendly smile and said, “gosh, that was pretty scary, wasn’t it?” He didn’t gush with apologies or over-react to the situation or blame the bumpy flight. Messes happen.

This flight attendant seemed more interested in his passenger than in how he might be perceived — what a concept! He is trained to put the comfort and safety of the passengers ahead of his own. And he demonstrated this well.

Anyplace in Life……

I often observe how people listen — or do not listen — to each other. Listening is an underrated and underdeveloped skill, yet the most important skill in healthy interactions. In a society that emphasizes outward actions, we have sometimes forgotten the value of the inner process, of the quiet connections, of the deeper meanings that are wordless.

The words we say are not nearly as important as the consciousness from which we speak. Compassion is a consciousness which is received more deeply than the accompanying words. Phrases are easier to teach than compassion; however, it is the compassion we must learn to embody. When we do, the words follow naturally.