On listening

So much has been said, and continues to be said, about mental health, exalting the dire importance to “reach out”. Though well-intentioned, the sheer number of posts that have just casually offered this as a silver-bullet — “please reach out” “you are not alone” “my DMs are open” — have left me a bit uncomfortable. First because what does it say about us that this has to be explicitly stated, after someone has passed away by suicide? And second because I’m wondering about what after the person reaches out? Assuming that they can just get over whatever it is that has stopped them from doing so, that we seem to think just reiterating that they should reach out will help — what next?

When we offer a listening ear, how do we listen? Can we really listen? And more importantly, are we in the habit and practice of doing so with presence and empathy?

Can we listen without immediately pathologizing the human tendency to feel feelings, sometimes more intensely than usual? Without offering solutions or judgement. Without wishing tough emotions away.

My guess is we are mostly not. Because we live in a country and a culture that isn’t used to looking at vulnerability of sharing in a healthy way. We are not in the habit of looking at mental health as a product of societal and cultural polarities (amongst many other things) that contribute a great deal to ill-health. We mostly don’t have it in us to cultivate a systemic view of life that accounts for all of this.

So how do we listen better? Just listening, for a start. I’ve been wondering about this. Not for my work, but for life, as a whole. Listening with the ability to put myself and any discomfort that may arise from it, aside for a brief moment, to give my presence to the other. To be patient, and bear witness, as I listen.

I don’t have any hot-takes or immediate answers. Just my own questions around this, most of which arise from my experiences of not feeling heard and seen. I know that the collective changing rests with every individual changing, slowly, one step at a time, over time. And so maybe we begin with ourselves, and our experiences with being heard, and looking at how that was for us. I know that it is only through living and experiencing this that answers will emerge.

PS: Not the first time I have pondered about listening, it seems.

One year ago: My own person
Two years ago: Home where my love lies waiting

2 thoughts on “On listening

  1. These sentences resonate so strongly with me- ‘A culture that isn’t used to looking at vulnerability of sharing in a healthy way. We are not in the habit of looking at mental health as a product of societal and cultural polarities (amongst many other things) that contribute a great deal to ill-health. We mostly don’t have it in us to cultivate a systemic view of life that accounts for all of this.’

    ‘Listening’, ‘active listening’, ‘listen for what is not being said’, ‘listen without judgement’, these are phrases that are being bombarded constantly at work, in training, and on social media.

    But do we actually listen? As a culture and society, I worry we can’t because of all the ‘noise’ we’ve created.’

    Liked by 1 person

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