Voices of marginalized individuals, groups, and communities are rarely heard and not listened to. Throughout history, civil protests and violent wars have been how groups and communities got "someone" to listen to them. Why does it always have to come to this? Black women are 2-3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/index.html). They are less likely to be taken seriously when they voice their concerns. #Amberisaac #Shaasiawashington When a black man says, "I can't breathe," #Georgefloyd or that I live in this neighborhood, their statements fall upon deaf ears. Black trans females are murdered and deadnamed and misgendered by individuals and the media. #Breeblack #Shakipeters #Drayamccarty So listen Linda, or better yet Karens and Kens! Rarely do we as a society and as individuals take the time to listen. Hearing simply happens whereas listening is something you consciously choose to do (www.mesacc.edu/~vocewld/class/Syllabus/Listening2.ppt). This may sound corny but the world would be a better place if we listened to one another.
A few weeks ago, I was having a counseling session with a black middle school-aged female who said that she had been telling all of her friends that they should get a therapist and how wonderful it is to have someone "who has to listen to you" for an hour. At the time, I giggled quietly to myself about how excited she seemed to be to have a therapist and how she was encouraging her friends to get one as if this was the latest iPhone. She reminded me of myself when I was her age and how I needed someone to not only talk to but someone who would listen to me. The struggle was real in middle school. So of course, the first person I went to was my black momma. Not to be stereotypical, but as a single parent with two kids, she did not have time for middle school "drama." Mind you, it wasn't drama, it was my life and this was of the utmost importance, how could she not take this seriously! Well, she didn't and she made that very clear. It's funny how I look back now with my adult eyes and I can see where this was a pivotal moment that set me on my path to becoming a therapist. Luckily enough for me, I had an aunt who was willing to listen to me talk every Sunday up until college years. Yes, I had that much to say! Not everyone has someone in their life who can or will do that. I say all of this to say that listening is a powerful tool, it just may change someone's life.
It may seem weird to some people that an individual would go to counseling and pay a stranger to listen to them talk for an hour but weirder things have happened. The reality is that anyone can become a good listener. Listening is an active process. A good listener comprehends what is said, notices important things not said, recognizes changes in tone and body language, consciously decides whether to add input, accurately determines whether to think ahead, thinks before responding, and knows when it's wise to interrupt (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-do-life/201405/how-become-better-listener). Some benefits to the listener are improved interpersonal relationships with others, better decision-making, and problem-solving skills, decrease in conflict and misunderstandings, with an increase in rapport, communication, and trust which all helps to boost self-confidence and lessen stress.
We all could benefit from improving our listening skills. As a therapist, I am trained to be an active listener but there are times when I fall short and I need to mentally bring myself back to the present moment and the client so that I can be effective during the session. Being a professional listener can be quite exhausting, during my off hours I just don't have the mental capacity or energy to always listen to my family and friends. A month ago, I had to apologize to a close friend of mine because I realized that I was not being a quality friend. I was always distracted during our phone conversations. Before the pandemic, I always made it a priority that when I was face to face with friends and family, I would place my phone on silent and put it away so that I could be present at the moment and give them my full undivided attention. Lately, it seems as if now that I am home all the time, I am easily distracted when on the phone or video call. I am trying to do better with that, but hey aren't we all a work in progress.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, there seems to have been an increase in the number of individuals who have committed, attempted, or contemplated suicide. Many times after the tragic loss of a friend or loved one, people tend to say I wish I could have done more for that person. I always wonder what that more is. I assume that more means to be more present and one of the best ways anyone can do that is by listening. Not everyone needs a fixer or a problem solver when they are having difficulties in their lives. Don't get me wrong, those are good qualities to have, but there has to be a balance. What it seems as if most people want is to be heard hence social media. The fastest way to get millions of people to listen to you is by posting or recording something on social media. Recently a friend of mine informed me that kids were using the line, "I had pasta tonight," on TikTok as a way of expressing that they were feeling depressed, anxious, or experiencing suicidal ideation (https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/deeper-meaning-behind-tiktok-had-175558041.html). This speaks volumes in terms of people feeling alone and as if they have no one that they can turn to for support. It's time that we reflect on how we can create safe spaces for our loved ones, friends, communities, etc. Listening is often the only thing needed to help someone.
Are you a good listener? How can you improve your listening skills? When was the last time someone took time to listen to what was on your heart? When was the last time you were able to give someone your full undivided attention and actively listen to them?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to speak to a counselor. Free. 24/7. Confidential https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/