A “Do What You Can” Story
It was a chilly fall day when the farmer spied the little sparrow lying on his back in the middle of the field. The farmer stopped his plowing, looked down at the frail feathered-creature lying on his back in the middle of the field. He inquired, “Why are you lying upside down like that?”
“I heard the sky was going to fall today,” replied the bird.
The old farmer chuckled. “And I suppose those spindly little legs of yours can hold up the sky?”
“One does what one can,” replied the plucky sparrow.
-D’ette Corona in Chicken Soup For The Soul
I imagine you are as overwhelmed as I am with the state of the world, our nation, your community, and your life. I cannot begin to process on a deep level all of the information coming in. There are so many needs, so many places to turn, to donate, and to take action. How can we possibly wade through these turbulent waters and contribute in a meaningful way? Does it feel like the sky is falling?
What’s a person to do?
A long-term friend called and left me a message a couple of weeks ago. She wanted to share something with me— “sort of related” — in response to the ‘Be An Anti-racist” blog we posted that week. When I called her back, she was excited to tell me about a new friend she had made. Sitting in her local coffee shop (BC–Before Covid) she noticed another person that was often there when she was. After many times of seeing her and sometimes sitting at an adjoining table, she struck up a casual conversation with her. Turns out Savannah is her name, and she is a cross-dresser. She and my friend have been getting to know each other and are developing a friendship that is meaningful to both. My friend, Dottie, is learning a whole lot about a world she knew very little about and developing a deep appreciation and respect for another. Savannah is compassionately educating another person about her world and is also making a new friend.
So you can start a conversation with someone you do not even know. Yes, I know this can be uncomfortable. But it is also brave and expansive.
Another friend sent me a picture of a sign she and her husband painted and stuck in their front lawn “We Are Listening”, the sign said.
At a recent outdoor gathering, a few of us were talking about how to wade through all of the muddy waters. We decided it was best to pick a few “experts” and listen to them more deeply, rather than trying to listen to everybody. We also thought it was good to listen to a few people who are really challenging our views, not just people who share our views.
You can pick a few people to really study and follow. (We included a good list in our previous blog.)
The Un-Comfortable Zone
I could keep listing the multitude of things we can do, and I actually think you already know most of them. We can donate. Pray. March. We can support black and brown businesses, educate ourselves, and vote. The list is long.
Here’s the thing that might matter as much or more than any of those other things I just listed. I think we all forget how critical this thing is.
Yes, I just said that the skill of listening to another person, in a certain way, might be the most important thing we do.
What Is Active Listening?
Listening is not something that just happens. That is hearing. Listening is an intentional and attentional process. When we are active listeners, we are listening for the sole purpose of understanding the other person. Our opinions are off limits. Our ideas and suggestions are not front and center. We listen to understand the other person’s experiences, feelings, and interpretation of events. When we are listening in this way, we will:
Listening is an intentional and attentional process.
Look the person in the eye.
Encourage further conversation by non-verbal cues like head-nodding, smiling, and squaring our bodies to this person.
Encourage further conversation by soft verbal cues like just saying, “yes, I hear what you are saying,” or just an “hmmm…”.
Active listening also requires patience. We allow for silences. We may ask clarifying questions. And example may be, “I don’t understand that part, can you say it again?” Or just a simple, “Tell me more.”
Active listening requires humility. Maybe this person actually has something to say that I need to learn.
Why do we do this?
There are two things that will help us connect to each other and cooperate with each other. First is an honest desire or intention to do so. Second is a genuine, humble respect for another’s experience, background, history, and culture . When we force our viewpoints on others, when we talk loudly and list our favorite “talking points”, we generally drive a deeper wedge in the relationship.
But when we can listen and genuinely want to know what a person is saying, want to know why they think or feel the way they do, we have the possibility of a connection. Whether we want to know it or not, we are all intimately connected. We are connected as well to our ecosystems and our planet. This is one of the lessons CoVid-19 is offering to us. When we look at the star-studded sky and remember that what we do here on this planet effects the solar system, and vise versa, it is hard to maintain an isolationist attitude.
When we force our viewpoints on others, when we talk loudly and list our favorite “talking points”, we generally drive a deeper wedge in the relationship.
Everyday we have opportunities to talk with people who might have different backgrounds, ethnicity, religion, and opinions from us. Everyday we can forge connection if we are committed to our common humanity. Like my friend, Dottie, and her new friend Savannah, we can find our common humanity and build upon that and in doing so, we build a better world.
Just Do It
Friends, stick those skinny chicken legs of your up in the air and do what you can. If you don’t know where to start, just begin by being a better listener. It is simple but it is not easy.
I have a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. A few years ago my book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year. I am passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, writing, traveling, and learning. www.amysandermontanez.com
You can email me at [email protected]