The Importance of Really Listening

Growing up, I had the feeling that nobody ever listened to me. The truth is I don’t think listening to anyone was part of our family reality. I was taught to never air the dirty laundry outside the family. To me, that meant that we would talk our family problems inside the family. That never happened. It was not forbidden implicitly but it was enforced ferociously.

One Thanksgiving celebration was at my Aunt Nellie and Uncle Wilbur’s house. They had a house with a rather small living room and connected dining room. It was packed with our family. The crowd noise was very loud. Suddenly, I shouted out, ” Stop talking!”Everyone looked at me in shocked silence. I continued, “I counted 17 people in this room and 22 different conversations going on.” My family looked at me blankly in effect saying “And your point is…..” Then all the conversations started all over again.

That illustrated to me the reality I was beginning to understand. listening to me wasn’t going to happen. They were not even listening to each other.

In my family, if I happened to say something very smart they might listen to me. The reason they listened because it said to them, “Our family is really smart.”That momentarily eased the sense of inferiority that characteristically gripped us. Therefore, I worked constantly to say something smart. The result is I never learned to make casual conversations.

In contrast, my daughter Gina could make a lamp post talk.

Imagine the relief there was for me when I finally found my recovery program. There everybody always listens to everyone else’s sharing and no one ever criticizes. I know one woman outside the program who attends a quarterly small group meeting of people from other companies who have the same exhausting professional employment. She says that she looks forward to that quarterly meeting because there everyone listened to her sympathetically. I have the privilege of being listened to several times a week. I am so grateful.


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