Are You Listening Or Are You Hearing?

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Mother and teenage daughter talkingLife moves very fast these days. Everywhere you look you are bombarded with billboards, ads, commercials and the next “shiny thing” that is meant to grab your attention. Instinctively and over time, you learn to turn it off. You learn to not hear all of the commotion around you; Not see the blinking lights. You learn to focus inward so that you aren’t distracted by everything outside. It is necessary to function in today’s society, the ability to not internalize all of the information coming your way. Which is why it is so important to have those moments where you can let your guard down and have a real conversation. A time where you can hear and be heard. Where you can build a little bubble around yourself and someone else to just take a minute for you. It is one thing to listen to all that is going on in the world, but it is another thing to really hear somebody else.

When it comes right down to it, I think there is one thing in life that most people truly want. Sure, when you dream, you dream about having the perfect relationship, more money, a better paying job, a nicer car – but when you break all of those fantasies down, they all equal the same thing. We all want validation. We want to be told that we are worth it because someone really sees us. We want to feel valued at our job and in our relationships. We’ve all met that fly-by-night person who says, “You’re great!” and you know that they have no idea who you really are. It feels false. It feels like something that you wish could mean more, but doesn’t. All we are looking for in this life is to be heard and really seen. It is one thing to share the same space as someone and it is another thing to be with them.

My family has a dinner tradition that we started from the day my son was born 12 years ago. There are no cell phones allowed at the table. This also includes tablets, laptops and any other electric devices that are laying around. We started it as a way to really focus on each other and our son (not to mention avoiding flying food hitting the electronics!), but over the years, it is something both my husband and I have become passionate about. First and foremost, if there are no devices, we get to really talk to each other without distraction. We are the only people at the table and we should be the only people at the table. For that short amount of time, we are available to hear each other, to hear the kids, and just exist for a few minutes together. There won’t be much more time like this (my kids are 12 and 9), so I hope to enjoy every moment that we can of these meals together.

Father and son laying on a blanket smiling at each otherThe second reason that we don’t allow phones at the table has to do with our kids growing up. This hadn’t occurred to me when we first started the tradition, but now it has become more and more important by the day. My kids will be getting cell phones fairly soon. They already have tablets and family laptops, but soon they will be involved in social media, texting, and all the jazz that we adults are exposed to now. If they know that there have never been cell phones allowed at the table, it shouldn’t be much of an issue when there continue to be no cell phones at the table. That means that I get time with my teenage kids to really talk with them. I don’t care if they tell me about their favorite teacher, their favorite Dungeons & Dragons characters or their favorite shoelace color, I just want to keep them talking. Because if they are talking, I can hear them. And if they know I am hearing them, my hope is that they will come to me with the important things in the future. I know that I won’t be able to fix all of the worries in the world for them, but what I can do is give them validation. I can really hear what they are saying and validate their feelings.

As we grow up, we don’t stop needing validation. Hopefully we become more confident and sure of ourselves, but having that moment from somebody else where they really see you? It never stops being important. And if it is important to you that people hear you when you speak, remember that it is also important to others. Do your best to take a breath before speaking after someone else has finished. Were you really listening or just waiting for your turn to talk? It is in the moments when we disagree with someone that this actually becomes even more important. When you have a “side” and someone else has a “side,” you will never find resolution without actively trying to hear each other. It doesn’t mean that you ever have to agree, but taking a breath, taking a moment to try to hear them may be all that is needed to validate their feelings. If you make the first move, chances are that the other person will feel encouraged to validate you as well. It is not about seeing the world in the way that someone else might, it is about letting them know that the way they see the world matters to you. We and our feelings are all important, we just want someone else to see it too.

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