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Listen Up!

November 27, 2019

Great. Now that’s I’ve gotten used to the fact that my eyes are starting to go, my ears seem to be the next in line for failure. I used to have really excellent hearing. I can still absorb the conversation of the party at the next restaurant table just fine (priorities!) but recently I can’t always hear when someone calls to me from another room. For almost a decade now, I have ribbed my husband mercilessly for his dreadful hearing (and it is pretty bad—what’s worse, he stubbornly maintains that it is WE who are mumbling. Now, it seems, I am getting my come-uppance for criticizing Stevo. This is just like what happened after years of harping on him for snoring—now I snore too. This seems to be our version of people who start resembling their dogs, as we gradually morph into one another.

Physically hearing language is one thing. Truly listening is quite another, and it’s becoming a lost art. We are all talking at, instead of with, each other. This lack of listening and responding from a place of understanding has helped fuel our current polarized societal situation. Into our TV and internet echo chambers we have retreated. Not only has this led to a huge political divide, but it has also increased the amount of loneliness we feel. We yearn to connect with our fellow humans in a meaningful way. For too many of us, our days and weeks and years go by, and no one really cares enough to pay attention to what we say and think.

I just saw a cool short documentary video called “Free Custom Poetry.” It’s the story of Frankie Abralind, who has devoted himself to listening to people. He founded the Good Listening Project, which trains medical professionals at to be better listeners for their patients. Frankie is also a poet, and some Saturdays he sets up a table, and an old Royal typewriter, on the National Mall in Washington DC. He invites passersby to talk about their lives for a few minutes, and then he writes a poem about what he hears, and gives it to them for free. As Frankie says, it’s not really the poem’s quality that matters; it’s the fact that a stranger took the time to care about what they had to say. I believe Frankie is performing a great mitzvah (good deed) for the many, many lonely souls in our midst.

As we enter the home stretch towards Thanksgiving tomorrow, I know there will be some tense table conversations in a lot of households, maybe more than usual. Instead of assiduously steering clear of any topic of substance, why don’t we engage, but lovingly? “Help me understand how you feel about such and such” is a great opener—but only if we DO try to understand, and not immediately jump on the other person. Worth a try?

Wishing you all a heaping helping of peace and compassion, along with your turkey and pie.

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    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: www.eliseseyfried.com or email me at eliseseyf@gmail.com.