I don’t have any “marketable” talents. I don’t play an instrument (or at least, not well), I don’t speak another language, I don’t know how to program something other than the alarm clock on my phone, I’m not an elite athlete, I can’t paint to save my life, I won’t be featured on Chopped or Dancing with the Stars any time soon…and the list goes on and on. If you’re thinking about specific, hard skills, well, I don’t got ‘em.
But soft skills? I have those in droves. The one that has me thinking tonight is listening.
I recently spent some time with a friend who shared with me some difficult things that were going on in her life. As she continued to talk, it became quickly evident that she genuinely thinks she isn’t special or valuable. I would almost go so far as to say that she didn’t see much worth in herself at all. Immediately, I was so struck by the fact that she was so out of touch with the incredible person that she is. When the time was appropriate, I told her a long list of reasons why she is and backed each one up with some pretty darn good specific examples, and she just gave me a half-smile and said, “Well, we’ll agree to disagree.” My heart cried a little bit at the resignation in her voice and the factual tone she used.
We all have individual needs, and each of us is unique. But I think common to all of us is a need to be heard and to be loved. And it makes my heart so sad when I realize just how many people aren’t listened to or cared about.
I love to listen. Some people are great with trivia, musical knowledge, or TV shows. That’s cool. That’s not me, though. What I do love to learn about is trivia as it relates to your life, music as it has impacted you, or TV shows that light you up. And as I learn more about a person, I care more and more about them. Ursula Le Guin wrote, “Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in – become part of the action.” In listening to those around us, we’re not passively sitting there; instead, we become part of their life journey as we walk this part of the path with them. Listening – truly listening with an intent to understand, not with an intent to reply – connects us to those around us. It makes life more personal, more meaningful, and most importantly, shows the person we are with that they are worthy of being listened to. In our fractured world, how many people miss that message because of a broken home or a tough school environment? How many people don’t realize that they are truly unique, and that never in the history of the world has someone quite like them ever existed?
One of my favorite books is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and it’s one I’ve written about here a number of times. In it, Frankl explores how man can find meaning in life here on earth. Sometimes I think my purpose here is to remind other people of the light that shines within them, and to show them the beauty that is their unique soul. It’s slow going, to be sure, but a worthwhile endeavor, and I think it’s a cause that I’m well suited for. As long as I continue to meet people who need to be reminded of this, it’s something that I will continue to strive to do. I may not reach thousands of people in doing so, but if I can make a difference in a life here and a life there, well, the world will be a brighter place for it.