Don't Understimate the Power of Talking

One of the biggest factors in the demise of a relationship, any relationship, is lack of communication.  Failing to take the time to talk about your issues, failing to take the time to listen.  Communication.  Which obviously takes more than one person, and it takes at least one listener and at least one talker.  I know this seems like a very basic point, but I've noticed many other places in our lives where this basic concept is ignored. During my last summer at college, I worked at the United Nations on the Law of the Sea Convention (OK, don't look it up so you can figure out how old I am!).  The U.N. is all about communication, in fact it has more translators than you can imagine.  Speaking and listening are disciplined in the arena of international compromise, just as they are disciplined in debates.  Well, maybe not the presidential debates, which brings us to politics.  There are a zillion talkers and very few listeners.  Because listening requires absorbing the other person's information, feelings, thoughts and ideas.  Bigotry is the failure to listen.  In that way the bigot can be isolated from the ideas, thoughts and feelings of the other person, and maintain their illusion of "right".  Even religious fundamentalists fail to listen, which leads to oppression of "seditious speech".  And what about terrorism... is is simply a failure of someone to listen?

This is something I have been focusing on every day in my work.  I try to listen.  Active listening is intensely difficult because you have to drive all other thoughts out of your mind, not think about what you want to say, and instead open yourself to the words and the intent of the other person.  How can allopathic medicine do this?  How can a doctor sit down with a person he hasn't laid eyes on in a year and in 15 minutes, listen to the unloading of the patient.  I say unloading, because it is like emptying the trunk of the car.  They will tell me first the most recent thing, the most troubling thing that has brought them to the chair opposite me.  But that is not the cause.  That is not even the focus.  So I have to listen and open myself up to the thing they will say that will make the lightbulb go on.

"I never seemed the same after I came back from India last year."  "I feel stressed all the time with taking care of my mother's cancer."  "I think my hormones are a mess."  The baggage that is deepest in the trunk is what usually is "underneath" the current problem.  But without taking the time to listen, however long that is, then they won't ever get to tell me what was in the deepest part of the trunk.  In front of their allopathic doctor, they won't even get past the third piece of luggage before the doctor will interrupt, order tests and say goodbye.  So what is the diagnosis really based on?

There are even times when my patient will reach the end of their talking, and I still won't really know what the issue is.  Then it dawns on me, that it might be their need to be listened to.  Their need to unload the trunk just so they can feel lighter and less burdened.  Maybe it's so they can repack the trunk with new things with which to move forward.  Sometimes I learn something about my baggage by listening to their baggage.

I can see the need for active listening everywhere.  I wish we would all take the time to stop and listen to someone.  Verbalizing things allows us to not just think about something, but to hear it.  It changes our awareness of it, and allows for recognition of the challenges we face and the opportunities we have.  I often tell my friend Melanie that simply by telling her about my day allows me to visualize tomorrow more clearly and without feeling as overwhelmed as I did when I left work for the day.

I think half of our problems would resolve and half of our illness would disappear if we all had someone to talk to...