Day 4 – listening to other voices, listening to myself

Posted on October 5, 2009

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listening is hard to do

Today’s prompt is about listening.  When you stop to think about the sounds around you, you notice some surprising things.  For me, I tune out so much of the noise around me (ok, I have 2 boys, if I didn’t tune some things out I would go mad).  Noise, chaos, and (the sounds of ) destruction seem to come with the territory of having 3 kids – and you can’t go charging up the stairs every 5 minutes just because you think someone has been maimed.  Again.  However, I was surprised and depressed to realize how much important stuff I tune out – and how, when the noise becomes insistent (as when one or more of the kids demands attention), I react with irritation or even anger without stopping to think about what I’m turning away from and what the cost of turning away might be.  I want my kids to believe that their thoughts, dreams and crises are important to me.  At the same time, I want them to understand and respect my need for quiet and my need to focus when I’m in the middle of tasks.  But when I react emotionally to an interruption without taking the time to find out what their need is, I may be giving them a message that I didn’t intend to give.   And then I feel guilty.  Why is parenting so hard?

On the flip side, it seems so unusual for someone to ask about – and really listen to my inner thoughts. Is that because people don’t listen, or is it because I hesitate to share?  I think these days it’s so very difficult for people in general to remove the clever, snarky, protective outer layer and show others, even their friends and family –  the authentic interior.  I know, while I was growing up, my parents reacted negatively whenever I shared bad news.  It is the custom of my people to pretend all is under control, even as their ship sinks slowly into the sea. (reminds me of some banks I know)  Remember Spock? Expressing his inner emotions was actually bad for his health. As a young nerd, I could totally relate.

But this unflappable outlook, this pretense of control at all costs, sometimes verges on the absurd.  In a corporate setting, admitting to weakness is considered, well, weak. Acting like you’re in control at all times seems to be the mantra of corporate PR departments and the mandate for corporate executives (we need to control the message, we wouldn’t want our shareholders/Board members/customers to panic, disapprove, etc.) In such an environment, it is so HARD for people to let their guard down.  But taken too far, maintaining the appearance of success and control even in bad times spells disaster for everyone. And it is so refreshing when people admit mistakes, apologize, show contrition – or in any way reveal their true spirit.

On those occasions when I am sharing AND the other person is listening, I sometimes feel overwhelmed, as though I am exposing all my secrets and my weaknesses.  (Hear that, prospective interviewers?  If you really listen, you’ll scare the bejesus out of me – and perhaps get some insights into the REAL me).  At the same time, I feel a freedom and an openness that are intoxicating.  It’s always a glorious surprise to find a friend who really wants to know YOU.  If we could only bottle that feeling, it would be better than truth serum and polygraph tests.

Finally, what about listening to myself?  I’m still working on this one, but I’m always happiest when I make decisions based on the niggling internal voice.  That niggling internal voice always seems to know which choice aligns with my values and passions.  But sometimes I don’t take the time to listen for it.  Need to work on that.

Lessons for today:

  1. Take time to listen before reacting emotionally (and negatively) to demands from my kids (or other family and friends), even if ultimately I still put them off.  At least understand the tradeoff I’m making.  Slow down.
  2. Take the risk of being authentic.  This may turn off a lot of people, connections, potential employers.  But those who can accept the eccentric and authentic me will make me the happiest in the long run.  Is authentoxication a word?
  3. Make time to listen to my internal voice.  This might mean going to bed earlier to meditate or pray.

What does all this have to do with finding my calling?  I think that being open to and truly hearing both external and internal voices, giving myself the opportunity to develop and listen to my own and others’ insight, permitting myself to be authentic (even if that ends up being, um, unconventional) will create an opening, making it more likely that I will recognize my vocation.  We’ll see.

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