What I’ve learned about …. listening, really listening

As I write this piece, I am four days off starting a huge journey of self-discovery. I’m travelling to the United States for a month, where I will be ensconced on a 100-acre property in the wilderness of Oregon as I write my childhood memoir.

This is a journey that is a purely cathartic exercise for me.  The past two years has been filled with health challenges, both mental and physical health, which led to the beginning of a healing process that has been overdue since childhood.

It is these collective events that have allowed me to finally reach the stage where I can sit and spill onto paper – or screen in this case – (hopefully!) the reality of the first 15 years of my life before I escaped ‘home’ and started again. To do so provides enormous relief but it is also anxiety inducing as reliving this period of my life will be undoubtedly difficult.

Which leads me to this week’s extremely important day of awareness and recognition, R U OK? Because there have been many, many times over the years where I most certainly was not, and no one thought to ask me.

We need to take these four letters that carry such a burdensome question seriously though. So, if you are not prepared to listen to an answer that may make you feel uncomfortable, and to respond with care and compassion, perhaps it better not to ask at all because the person that has that one chance for someone to truly listen will be better off finding someone with the ticker to engage and support.

As someone who suffered long-term abuse, from three to 15 years of age, I try to demonstrate more empathy for the many others who are suffering. I am drawn to them and always seek to provide support on some level. I had become increasingly frustrated at people’s offhanded approach to the ‘how are you?’ question, as few – I’m referring to those close to you – stop long enough for an honest answer. And in the case of a definitive negative to the question, practically bolt in the other direction. I saw it time and again with others who really did need someone to listen to their answer, honestly, earnestly and spend a little time in an exchange that may just change that person’s view of their day, week, month or even their year.

In cases like this, the old adage, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ couldn’t be more accurate. The act of simply listening can change another person’s entire perspective. I think we have lost the art of empathy, or perhaps we think it is our duty to offer a solution, hence the avoidance. But sometimes no solution is needed, just an empathetic ear.

So, when this National Day of Action was launched in 2019, I was both happy and a little saddened. I was happy that by bringing awareness to the value of sharing problems, it would see support for many thousands trying to make sense of the world. But that happiness was tinged with a little sadness knowing that, everyone, at some point, needs that empathetic ear and calm voice to feel safe enough to share.

So, this is a reminder to all of us that this National Day of Action goes beyond the official date of September 8th. The event is dedicated to reminding everyone that any day should be the day to ask, R U OK? because as a civilised community it is our duty to take care of each other. <3

Lx

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