I once half-jokingly Tweeted to the effect, “Why would I want to talk about myself in a conversation? I know everything about myself already.” The non-joking half is that as much as I might enjoy blabbing about my imminent book launch (Psst! It’s gonna be this April) or making snappy rejoinders, I am intensely curious about what’s going on inside people, especially folks I barely know or am meeting for the first time– which is a good thing, since that is the chief prerequisite to being a decent chaplain.
When, like a detective or reporter I find myself offering comments and questions that invite the ones I’m talking with to elaborate further, I get the scoop on how they handle hurdles, how they find meaning, what is worth their while, what makes them laugh, what makes them fume. Each one of our lives is an unfolding story, and that is what fascinates me about diving in and getting a sampling.
One aspect of people’s stories that I can’t wait to get all the details on are unusual careers. I once met someone who worked for Disney World as one of the costumed characters. What was it like to wear those costumes? (Very hot, and the material was heavy.) What did adults and children say to you? (Not every interaction was of a pleasant nature, though the majority of them were) How did you land such a job? Does everyone ask these kinds of questions? (Many people do ask.) She went on to say how lucky she was to have such an unusual job, and definitely liked it as a conversation piece.
If listening and speaking were commodities, the former would sell for a steep price due to its scarcity. This puzzles me, though. Yes, I do know we all like to think we are the center of the Universe. Still, everyone loves to read or hear stories about others, whether in a romance novel, a movie, a memoir, a comic strip or a musical. Why then, is it so hard for people to find an audience for themselves when there they are, in actual live time, the very latest part of their stories playing out in living color? Doesn’t anyone want to hear the breaking news of how what they do and think constitutes their response to being alive? This is what goes through my mind about the patients I meet, strangers at a party, friends, my husband’s business clients—I want to know where they are in their life story, what they have a zest for, what is keeping them going, what matters to them.
I do like to be listened to as much as the next guy or gal, but even then, I most enjoy it when the other person gives me some insight about myself, or provides comfort or affirmation or a way to challenge my growing edges. Maybe that is because as a chaplain this is what I seek to do for others. So often, we do for others what we wish they would do for us, right? Whether that is true or not, it should not take a chaplain or therapist to be listened to. If you “lend someone your ears” the next time you get on the phone or talk with someone in person, you just might find yourself in the middle of the best mystery novel, romance, science fiction, comedy or inspirational story you have ever been privy to.