Downright Good Thought: People call to talk about important things so they can talk … not to hear you talk.

I’ve been rather sad all week. Not outwardly sad, just depressed. My depression is not because of anything going on at work or in my personal life; no, the Olympics are coming to an end. All in all, I’ve really enjoyed this year’s rendition in London. And I’m sure that four years from now, there will be just as many great moments waiting in Rio (the site of the next summer games).

But now that I’ve gotten that issue out of the way, I can finally get back to my writing. It’s nice to take a break from something every once in a while. That’s what vacations are for. If your mind gets stuck on one thing for too long, you tend to get a little stir crazy. Instead of becoming more focused and more attentive on a subject, your brain actually works against you and you miss things you normally wouldn’t. Bad spellings, run-on sentences and the like if you’re a writer. That’s why it’s always important to step away for a time and then return when your eyes are ready to take a fresh look.

So here we are. A fresh look after a week or so of being out of the game. And hey,it feels pretty good considering how it didn’t take long for me to find something to write about.

That being said, I try not to eavesdrop on people. The trouble is I’ve never been very good at not eavesdropping. For those that know me, I have what I consider to be above average ear size. These protrusions on the side of my head are more like small satellites than actual lobes meant for picking up noises. If there’s a pin dropping in the room adjacent to the one I’m in, I’m the first to hear it. My family has often been amazed by this talent of mine as I’ve overheard conversations that have debunked my belief in Santa Claus, unveiled the “mistake” that would become my younger brother (sorry little bro) and keyed in on pets choking in rooms upstairs during family parties. Some of which I sickly wouldn’t mind seeing meet an untimely end.

This skill of mine clearly has its upsides, even if you have to deal with having car doors on the sides of your face. But on the downside, I’ve found that you unintentionally can become witness to conversations that you wish you never heard. A very similar situation happened to me just the other day.

I was out and about running some errands when I stopped by a grocery store to grab something small. I stood in line when I couldn’t help (and yes, I couldn’t help it, remember?) but overhear a very emotinally-charge conversation between two middle-aged women. Why “emotionally-charged” you may ask? Well, my ears picked up words like “treatments”, “anxiety”, “depression”, and finally, “leukemia”. If you’re any good at problem-solving, you can likely surmise that one of these ladies was either discussing a close friend or she was talking about herself. I stood standing trying to ignore them but I soon knew the topic of the cancer recovery was about her and nobody else.

I’ve only known a few people in my life that have fought cancer. Unfortunately, none of them ended up winning that fight. For as advanced as we may be, we still can’t defeat the dark enigma of cancer. However, it sounded like this woman had won her battle with the disease and was now recounting the experience with this friend of hers. At least that’s what one would think was happening. As I listened onward though, I became highly annoyed with the cancer survivor’s friend. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

During every turn of the conversation, the friend would respond with phrases like, “Right”; “Absolutely” and “Of course”. At first glance, she seems to be very agreeable. Empathetic even as she listens to her friend’s situation. But at the end of every “right” or “absolutely”, this other woman would chime in, thereby interrupting her friend, and telling her own tale of how she beat something of her own.All of these things she “beat” though, paled in comparison to her friend’s situation.

Sounds harmless, right? Sharing a tale or two may appear to be showing an attempt to relate but I could tell by this woman’s tone of voice that she really wasn’t that interested in hearing about this woman’s predicament. Or her story. The conversation was turning into a game of one-up’s and challenges where this other woman just couldn’t keep her mouth shut long enough for the other to get out her full story.

“Oh, that’s tough. You know, I’ve been (insert blah blah me me)….” and “Right…and you know you’re going to have to do this next like I have (insert more blah blah me me)”.

The survivor may have not even recognized what was happening but to a third party whose minor in college was communications, it’s a situation that’s plain to see. In all forms of communication, there is required type of dialogue that needs to take place. You initiate a conversation by first addressing the person you wish to speak to. Then, the other person has the option to respond to your statement or to just ignore you. Typically, we choose the former. We’re social creatures so it makes sense to continue on the exchange of dialogue when it seems enjoyable. But in many instances, people just need to vent. To get something off his/her chest and then once it’s out, we feel better. We’re not necessarily looking for justification or someone to relate to us, we’re just looking for a shoulder to cry on or hear our story.

And that’s why I was irritated with this other woman. Her job was to sit there and listen. Not to one-up this other woman. If you think I’m being too picky about this situation, then try to consider the following. Let’s say for a moment that the survivor continues to tell her story and the other woman just sits and listens. She is only allowed to respond with answers such as “wow”, “that’s great to hear” or “I’m happy you’re doing better”.

Now, I want you to think of the cancer survivor’s emotional level once that conversation is over.

Can you at least see how there would be a difference? No secondary stories. No agreeing to disagree. No debating over whose life is harder. None of that crap. Just one friend listening to another whose had an unfortunate turn of events and that’s that. When we’ve been through something major in our life (breakups, job loss, etc), we need to let out that negative energy we have brewing inside of us. I’m sure I may sound like some new age hippie or aspiring Buddhist but it’s true. We don’t need to hear another person’s hard times and we don’t want to hear them either. Sounds selfish (and it is) but it’s what we need. And all too often we don’t ask for the other party’s need for silence up front. Why? Well that answer is obvious because we know what the responses may be….

“I’d really love to hear about what happened but I’ve got some things to do….”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better but I have some errands to run and I know you may want to talk a while so….”

Yeah, I’m sure they’d be something at least close to those above comments. But if all we ask is “hey, can you meet me for a drink or two?” then of course, the other party is interested. This is a chance to make the conversation about both parties and not just the one wanting assistance.

So am I saying that all people are selfish? No, not necessarily. I’m not even saying that the other woman is a bad person. I mean, I know I’ve sat with a friend who just wanted a sounding board and I’m pretty darn sure I kept coming back to me somehow. Yeah, it can partially be blamed on human nature. Instead, what I’m trying to say is this: be a listener first if you can remember to do so. It’s the hardest thing to do, but it’ll be helping that other person far more than helping you. And yes, that’s why it’s such a hard thing to do.

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