“Nag-iinarte lang ‘yan. Noong araw naman, walang ganyan.”
The recent back-to-back deaths by known personalities served as a wake-up call to me, to urgently express my views on the issue of depression. Just this week, a famous bag designer was reported to have committed suicide. And while the world is still grieving its loss, another shock came about – a renowned food critic allegedly took his own life in his French hotel room in the midst of a tour.
It’s 1 am. In the stillness of the hour, my thoughts circle around this topic. Out there are loose mouths that speak lightly about suicide and depression while the rest remains indifferent. Sadly, people only took these things seriously when cases such as Spade’s and Bourdain’s appear on the surface.
Shocking, isn’t it? They were both triumphant in their respective fields but fame and honor weren’t enough to grant them peace. This unfortunate news tells us that even the most successful people need hope to keep them going. If only the world had more encouragers, listeners, and pacifiers than dismissers, faultfinders, and advice givers, maybe stories like theirs concluded with love and joy instead of remorse and sorrow.
There are so many sparkling things that impair the quality of our conversations today. Everyone has something else to do, somewhere else to be, and someone else to talk to. It’s laborious to give attention where it’s most necessary. Listening is not simply hearing what a person has to say. It’s about giving undivided attention and that takes conscious effort.
Usually, when someone confides to us, we tend to respond with more speeches that just float in the air. We throw words of wisdom here and there in an attempt to fix their problem. These seemingly good instructions never get through the ears of the exhausted. I am guilty of this myself. French playwright Albert Guinon said, “there are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves.” To simply share a moment of despair with a friend in need of company, what a commitment.
It takes a lot of courage to open up, doesn’t it? And listeners understand that. That is why to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present is an important skill. While most people focus on sharpening their reasoning and thought-processing abilities, we neglect to train ourselves to attend to people and listen well.
Perhaps many of us fancy a friend who would sit down beside us and voluntarily put themselves in a position where they quietly, intentionally, patiently, and passionately listen. Surrounded by people like them, we naturally put our guards down because we believe that they take interest in our lives. They give us the space to pour out our emotions, allow us to feel, clear our heads, and sober up. Even if they see every opportunity to speak their mind, they choose to withhold judgment and still, listen meekly. That’s humility.
Does this mean we tolerate shattered perspectives? No. Listening to stories of pain does not necessarily mean lauding the circumstance. It simply suggests that we seek to understand the person so we can see completely where God is moving in their lives. We avoid making assumptions and generalizations so we pay attention.
Ask yourself, “How would Jesus respond to this person right now?”
I bet Jesus would stop whatever He’s doing just to lend an ear to the cries of His people. In Mark 10, Jesus displayed His willingness to listen when Bartimaeus begged for attention. Jesus has somewhere else to go to but at the call of Bartimaeus, He stopped and came near. Upon seeing the situation, Jesus didn’t dismiss him and say, “Ah, I know what you want. Well, here’s my advice…“
Listening affirms people. It mends people.
And how do I know this? Simple. I learned it from my conversations with the older generation. They are the best people to attest the therapeutic effect of talking and being heard, of someone keeping them company. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice how the older generation appreciates it more when people sat beside them to chat rather than when people ask them what they can buy/give them. They experience joy when you engage them in a dialogue.
Most of them that I know, whenever I assure them that I have nothing else to do, they get surprised that someone takes time to listen to them. Just imagine if more people realize that their life matters, then more people would be relieved of the sadness.
Challenge: Ask someone how they are and give them an hour or two of undivided attention today.