Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There are few things better than...

I seem to have started a trend recently in writing on topics that begin with "There are few things better than...", thus I continue.

There are few things better than feeling understood.

Last year I taught my 10th graders in Cambodia the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the physical action of receiving sounds into your ear drum. Listening is hearing with intention, on purpose, understanding. So when someones asks, "Did you hear me?" the answer is mostly always "yes." But "Are you listening to me?" implies much more intentionality.

Ninety degree temperatures, sweat dripping face, sticky, and exhuasted, I'd stand in front of my students practically pleading that they understand me. "Ok, let's do this again, if we are reading this sentence, someone tell me the direct object." Silence. Stares.

At the market, "I need 2 kilos of tomatoes." Silence. "Umm, please?" Exhuastion and confusion spread onto her face. Hand motions were sure to make me look like the foreigner who just couldn't learn the language as I hold up 2 fingers, point to the tomatoes, and they hand me two tomatoes.

I've never hungered to be understood as much as I did when living in Cambodia. We're all hungry for something.

My friend Rachael is one of the best listeners I know. Listening really is a skill that not every one has, it's deeper than sitting there looking at someone. It's reaching out and touching my arm, it's seeing me, it's asking questions, and not giving answers.

Ben and Ashley can join the hall of fame on this one too. They don't draw their own conclusions about me, they ask questions and seek to understand better. Ben and Ashely are a safe place, which is a lot of what being understood is about, creating a safe place for someone to be heard and understood.

Jeremy hears, listens, understands. I don't have to be someone else to make him happy. I can't say anything that is too ridiculous or too crazy. He sees me. He listens to my idea, my theories, my tears, my stories about Cambodia, my thoughts on God.

Feeling understood grants me the freedom to be who I am regardless of what other people want me to be. Because I figure, if a few close friends understand me, I can't possibly me too crazy, can I?

Being understood means that I don't need to prove myself to anyone. I wonder if everyone feels heard and understood. I'm going to doubt it. A girl in the dorm confesses, "I'm walking around with a smile painted on my face, inside I'm dying. No one sees me. I don't fit in here."

"I'm sorry," I told her.

She did the rest of the talking for the next 20 minutes. She didn't really need anything from me. Just a warm body to understand. She says, "You are so wise," when really I said nothing at all.

This phenomenon continues to blow my mind. Someone has a problem, smile, nod, say "I'm so sorry", possibly ask a few questions, without judgment, that's usually all it takes. Ahh, the simplicity of understanding.