Amanda Rigell, a school teacher from Johnson City, Tenn., recently spent a day with her 89-year-old grandmother doing something neither of them had done before. When she was growing up, Ms. Rigell spent many hours with her grandmother, but after listening to National Public Radio's program called "Story Corps," she realized that most of those hours were about her grandmother listening to her, and she wanted to turn the tables. "Story Corps" is a series of intimate, taped interviews - children interviewing their parents, wives interviewing their husbands, all just average people recording stories told by important people in their lives. Because "Story Corps" declared the day after Thanksgiving Day to be the "National Day of Listening," Ms. Rigell chose that day in 2008, to arm herself with questions and her tape recorder and knock on her Mammaw's apartment door. Mrs. Opal Wilburn, according to Ms Rigell's Guideposts (October, 2009) article, welcomed her granddaughter, but she didn't think much of formal questions. It didn't take long, however, for Mammaw to tell her own stories about her childhood, her school days (where she went to a one-room school with just one other student until eighth grade) and how she met her husband.
Amanda said that she learned more about her grandmother in those few hours than she had in her entire life. In all, Mrs.Wilburn told her stories for two and a half hours. These tapes are now family treasures.
I visited both of my grandmothers often as a child and went to their homes every holiday, but I in no way feel that I really knew them. That is a shame, because I really would like to know things now that they would have told me if I had asked. I have heard from others that my Mammy Wiley watched her mother bury the silverware in the ground, during the Civil War, when they heard that the Yankee soldiers were coming their way. She also told others of her adventure of going off to college on the train by herself. My Grandmother Willis was deaf because of an accident in her childhood, and she lost her young husband to pneumonia before penicillin was discovered; she was faced with raising four children under 5 years old, and she was able in some way to keep her farm. These were two strong women; I wish I really had been able to know them better.
When I was a child I guess I must have thought that they had always been old and lived a boring life.
Stephen P. Sample, author of "The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership" says, "The average person suffers from three delusions: that he is a good driver, that he has a good sense of humor and that he's a good listener. You may succeed in life without the first two, but you won't without the third." We cannot connect with people if they don't feel heard and understood. Someone has said that a deaf ear is the first symptom of a closed mind. One of the greatest expressions of love is a commitment to listen. Even the Bible has a bit to say about speaking and not speaking; in Ecclesiastes, the words are: "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak." Probably our desire to hear our own voice is the main deterrent to listening. Too many of us feel that we are experts, needing to speak and/or impress.
I am blessed to have listeners in my life; I want so much to become a better listener, because I realize what a great gift it is to give to a speaker your eyes and your ears. In this time of manic schedules, we are most likely not speaking or listening; too many of us are just surviving.
A real listener, a real friend, is one who makes you welcome enough and comfortable enough to let you speak from the heart without reservation, pouring forth your feelings, fears, hopes and dreams (wheat and chaff), hearing it all, quietly letting the chaff go and holding on to the wheat of the conversations.
Good listening is valuable in many ways for the listener; engaging older people in conversation, when sincere and unhurried, often becomes a rich source of knowledge and wisdom for all of us. Someone has said that a wise person learns from the mistakes of others.
Many people are willing to share their experiences, even their mistakes, if we are willing to take time to listen.
Children need to see models of good listening and expression of ideas. When children feel that they are not being heard, they can be very creative in getting attention in other ways. I did not believe it when I first heard that bad attention is better than no attention to a child. Children crave attention; it is a basic need. If good attention is not given, bad attention answers that craving.
At times it appears that bad attention, after a steady diet of it, is preferred.
As children grow up, how valuable it is for them to learn to express their thoughts and feelings.
Unfortunately, today, nearly all of our new inventions require fewer opportunities for children to express themselves.
Television has almost totally suppressed communication in some homes, cell phone conversations are usually short and superficial, text and e-mail messages follow the same pattern.
Writing letters is one method of learning to express our thoughts and feelings, but people rarely write letters any more. My husband and I are concerned that many children in our area often grow up barely able to carry on a conversation.
Good grades, a diploma, even a college degree is not enough, if the young person is unable to give a good job interview. We simply must give our children opportunities to express themselves by being good and patient listeners.
In my opinion, a "National Day for Listening" is a good idea. (You can reach
Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)