Reflections: Listening, entering into someone's separate world

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"I wonder what's going on inside their heads," I asked myself recently as I awaited my turn for my annual physical at the doctor's office. The waiting room was filled to capacity with all kinds of people. I found myself watching the expressions on their faces.

Some were smiling and talking with those around them. Others were quiet, but their countenance was filled with expression. A few expressed no hint of feeling. Again, I questioned what was going on in their world because everyone lives in his own private world.

How can people ever get along and agree? Truly, individuals' backgrounds are different. Families hold varied ideologies. Perceptions vary. It must be through their free will, I thought. Much of humanity lives in harmony and builds a larger world outside by combining the patterns woven into both. It's astonishing how people interact and try to adjust to others around them. Communicating and living with others is achievable because of the desire God placed in us to want companionship and the command to "Owe no man anything except to love one another" (Romans 13).

Yet the Scripture passage "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23) is proof that all hearts and thoughts are different.

It's interesting how so many can lead separate lives, think unlike thoughts and have varied desires, goals and talents. It would be like reading a multitude of books if you knew the drama going on inside everyone and what the numerous mini worlds that constantly circle all around you contained.

As I continued delving into the stories happening within everybody, I realized that even though one thinks his show takes center stage, he needs only to listen to others. And if you genuinely listen, you can enter that interesting world of someone else.

Psychological counseling and spiritual direction are on the rise. Mental health professionals are definitely needed, but often a neighbor, friend or family member would be sufficient. Sometimes people simply need to tell their stories and feel someone cares enough to lend an ear and open his heart.

People talk with God knowing that "God created his inmost being and knit him together in his mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13), but to many, a human being is what's needed. You want to see and touch a live person and share your world.

You ride a bus, stroll through a shopping mall, attend church or go to a park. Everywhere you look people are conversing with each other. Why? It is because one wants to experience a part of someone else's world or allow to him to come inside his space for a visit.

Often what one communicates is sad news. Another time it is merely about a day in the life of a friend. Perhaps someone's feelings have been hurt. A person may think he has been treated unjustly and wants someone to know, hoping attention will heal the wound.

Simply talking with someone and disclosing what's on your mind may sound trite, but sometimes that's all that's needed to stave off depression or give another new hope. To listen is to show one that he matters: He is worthwhile.

Sharing what's inside your world is like opening your front door and inviting another into your sacred space. But it's an ever greater treasure to listen and be trusted with what's going on in another person's life. Remember though, that there's a difference between listening attentively so you can help, emphasize, cry or rejoice with someone, and extending your ear out of curiosity or to pry.

Be charitable. Regardless of how uninteresting someone may seem at first, attempt to share in his world. Just listen and hear. It's, for sure, different from yours.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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