I am a crap listener.
It’s funny, because for many years I have considered myself to be a great listener. I don’t know why? There is not a single memory that I can point to where I have been told that I am a great listener. I guess it’s just my superiority complex rearing its slobbering head once again. I am crap, pure and simple, and until recently it hasn’t been a problem. Or so I thought.
I am quite a solitary person. I like being alone. That means I don’t have anywhere near as many close friends as I once did. But when it mattered to me I never had a shortage of friends. I was always a leader – never a follower. I would make people laugh and I suppose I was interesting. I certainly was never boring. I don’t think I ever lost a single friend as a result of my inability to listen. People would confide in me. They would tell me secrets that they would never tell anyone else. My approach of radical honesty gave them the courage to act likewise. The more I opened up, the more people wanted to open up to me. They were so relieved. I could see the stress drain from their cheeks. This is what I confused with listening. Because people confided in me, I thought it made me a great listener. But I am a crap listener.
I don’t recall losing friends as a result of my inability to listen. But I know a few of them think I am self-centred. They would be right as well. I really do like to talk about myself. I am always waffling on and asking people questions about myself that I simply don’t have time to listen. If I were a woman I would have no friends. It’s only because my friends are male – and they are also crap listeners – that they tolerate my behaviour. They even think it’s a funny quirk of mine.
But when it comes to my closest relationships, not being able to listen is a killer. I am a divorcee who barely sees his child, my ex-wife despises me so much it verges on hate and I struggle to relate to my parents and my sisters. All of which is a result of my inability to listen. What makes this waste even more soul destroying is I am not choosing to be like this. It is automatic. It is society. Ever since I was a child, my parents, teachers – and anyone else who held a position of superiority – have programmed me to be an ineffective listener. In school, we read and we do math. We write and we kick a football around a pitch. But when were we ever taught to listen?
I don’t want to be like this. I want to be the gold medal winner in the Olympic listening event. This is what I choose. But despite choosing this way of life, I can’t grasp it. It just keeps one step ahead, like a plastic carrier bag on a windy day. It has nothing to do with effort either. When I woke up this morning I told myself that I was going to be a great listener. Effort was part of the deal. I made a promise to myself. I got into my sisters car to drive to town and she told me about an argument she had with my Mum. She got upset and I started telling her what to do in order to avoid it happening again. The Needy Helper to the rescue…tah-da-da-da-da! All I was missing was a red cape. She wanted me to listen and I wanted to tell her what to do.
But I have hindsight. I am able to look back at this morning’s episode and learn from it. I can see where I screwed up. I can apologise and it is less likely that it will happen again. But only less so you understand. I do this every day – screw up – and have done for a long time. But I have an urgent need to change. I have a new love in my life and I will not let this habit destroy what I have. Not again. I vow to beat this thing. As of today I am in training. I want that Olympic gold medal. I have told my lovely Liza that for the next 31- days I am going to work hard at creating a new habit. I am going to become a great listener.
I will be keeping a little audio diary of the events and I will post them on the blog for you to listen to my progress. I really hope that you will be able to share my successes – and failures – and use both to become a better listener yourself.
Photo courtesy of ky_olsen (CC $ flickr.com).