I remember a while back I called a friend of mine to catch up. As we spoke it became apparent she was having a tough time in many ways. After hearing her speak I resorted to giving her advice (from the top of my head) and some tips on how I thought she could deal with her issues moving forward. She then got angry stating to me that my tips were things she had already considered/tried and that she wasn’t seeking my advice. I quickly apologised after and we shortly ended the call, with confusion still hanging in the air on my side.
Although my initial emotion reflex was to get angry and annoyed I later realised my friend had unknowingly taught me a valuable lesson through that interaction. Sometimes, when people pour their hearts out to you, they aren’t looking for resolve or an immediate solution, they just want you to listen. It’s a simple observation and one that feels oh so obvious but yet, something even I have much room for improvement in.
Nowadays in my interactions with people, I find myself wondering what true listening is/ looks like. There’s one thing I can tell you in regards to this.
It involves empathy and seeking to understand the feelings being shared with you. Depending on whether the situation calls for it it may involve; giving advice or rather it may involve a simple hug or show of affection. Following up with questions is always good; it shows you are listening, interested and have a grasp on what is being relayed to you. ‘How did that make you feel?‘, ‘What can I do to help?‘ or sometimes a ‘thank you for sharing that with me‘ may be called for in the aftermath of the most difficult of confessions.
The first line I write with consideration because there are times when you may not relate to the nature of the problems people you listen to are going through and that’s okay. The worst it means for you is that you can’t say ‘I know what you’re going through, [insert personal story of how you relate here]’. I say this particularly when you come from a different world from the person you talk to.
For example, if a person of colour (POC) meets a white person and the former starts talking about racial discrimination they have faced; as white person from a working-class background it is not suddenly called for you to go ‘I can relate because as someone who grew up on an estate blah blah blah…’ Such things can be done with the sincerest of intentions but are, in my opinion, the wrong course of action to take. Rather, take the opportunity to properly listen to the POC and understand their experience. Use it, if you like, as a learning experience. This applies in regards to numerous oppressed or minority groups you may ever encounter; from travellers to the LGBT+ community. Only when such things are taken into account can dialogue between groups and/ or individuals be effectively done.
Disclaimer: I write this (as with all my posts) with no malice. In fact, I may sometimes be guilty of this myself so I’ll keep that in mind throughout.
Is it only me or do people find it so hard to be in the moment nowadays? By that I mean just savouring the present moment and appreciating what you’re doing and who you’re with. I can sometimes be with people and see they’re with me but actually quite distant all at once. Distracted by their phone either pinging with messages or simply not strong enough to resist the momentary urge to scroll through social media whilst you are talking. And that can be quite a frustrating state of affairs; firstly because it set a precedent for the whole evening and secondly, it means they may not have heard something that you felt was really important or took a lot of courage to share. In fact, it can be quite rare I find to be with someone I know and just be within a moment where you’re both talking whilst filled with genuine appreciation and joy at being with that particular person. With no one else. Or anywhere else. But there. I have a friend that will always tell me off for being on my phone and insist I put it away when with her. As a true phone addict would, I used to be annoyed at that but after some reflection and observation of my own social situations in the past few months I’ve seen the logic behind what I thought was once madness on her part.
It may not be intentional but being on your phone indicates you’ve only half-heartedly pushed time aside for that person. That you’re physically present but mentally you’re only half present here and God knows where else. The greatest sign of care and love is when you’re sitting opposite each other or walking side by side and you’re friend puts their phone away and looks you square in the eyes and says ‘talk to me’. That’s the cue that says to me (supported by action) that, I’m here for you, I’m listening and I’m all yours. The exclusivity of time is one of the benefits of a relationship and should definitely be taken more seriously. It may feel more intense without your phone there to buffer the awkward moments if they arise but at the end of your time together- whether long or short- you’ll know and love each other that little bit more. Because you’ll be reminded all over again of why you love that person and keep them in your life.
Friendship is a funny thing. Am I the only one that looks down the long hallway that is my past and sees the floating shadows of many former friendships? These are not necessarily friendships that suffered an explosive ending. Most of the time you try to keep in touch but days pass and the next thing you know two years have gone and you’ve barely spoken. I do see these friends every now and then but the conversation is very brief and shallow, almost as if you’re back to acquaintance (or even stranger) level again. After all, people do change- and much quicker than we know sometimes. Although the joyful memories associated with them bring happiness, you almost have to take time to grieve that individual as you realise the intimacy you shared may not ever be experienced again.
But as the old ends, new ones begin and such is the pain and beauty of friendship.