Monday, 6 July 2009

Listening is the best medicine.


Listening can be the best medicine.

During my half century of life on this planet, I've found that listening can be the most helpful thing one can do. This was aptly demonstrated recently when a certain friend poured out his troubles. The only contribution I made to the conversation, apart from monosyllables, was that perhaps something in his wife's childhood made her behave as she did. This friend e-mailed me some days later and said that our talk did him a lot of good. By the way, I'm being deliberately vague here as this is a private matter between this friend and myself. I do my utmost not to betray confidences placed in me.

I can recall many times in my life when a listening ear was all I needed in order to sort out my troubles. In my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed (And How I Found Authentic Christianity), I tell of the professionals who listened to me without an attitude of condemnation. Though the psychiatrist gave me no concrete answers, I realized that other people weren't as superior as they appeared and I wasn't such a bad person. A psychologist gave me a few insights but no real answers that I could sink my metaphorical teeth into. Even so, just having a safe place to sort out my troubles was of great help. As I told her, it's like having a clean table to dump out the contents of a bag on instead of just rummaging around in it. Everything is in plain sight but not in danger of becoming soiled. Two pastors gave more help in just a few hours than all the therapists that I had seen. I'm not yet free of past hurts but a talk show host named June Hunt suggested that I hand over my anger and my troubles to Jesus Christ in prayer. This, and writing my memoirs, has given me the most help in dealing with my past.

Either through ignorance or malice, people have given me trite advice that did more damage than good. Like the time my sister, Diane, rubbed my broken arm to make it better, these well-meaning critics caused me a lot of pain. For example, the elders at the house church that I attended, and that I'm writing about in my next memoir, admonished that my poor sight was due to ancestral sin, my lack of faith, or unconfessed sin in my heart. The legalistic attitude of these people eventually turned me against God for almost a decade. I came to realize it wasn't the Lord's fault but the bad council of people claiming to serve him. Another piece of harmful advice came from teachers and principles at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. "Ignore the bully and he'll stop bothering you," was their mantra. I suffered for years as a result of heeding them. Only after I tried to choke the bully to death did he stop harassing me. I wrote of this and other wrong-headed council in Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School).

I've heard folks joke that God gave us one mouth but two ears. There's a lot of truth and wisdom in that. If people listened twice as much as they spoke, more help would be given those who needed a friend to confide in. When people listen in order to understand, rather than to correct, it helps both parties come to a resolution or at least to a feeling of satisfaction.