I am certain you have experienced both, you just didn’t have the right words to explain the action, circumstance or feeling. I love when I stumble upon new words. The feelings they cause can be glorious, euphoric, or melancholy but oh so satisfying.
I have experienced a lot of anecdoche lately: conversations in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening. A further definition likens it to “playing a game of Scrabble—simply overlaying disconnected words with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score (or perhaps appear relevant), until we all run out of things to say.”
When we don’t active and passively listen, we can’t possibly understand, and therefore, instead of deep, meaningful, insightful, productive conversations, it often ends up simply being a jumble of words spoken by voices that sound eerily similar to the teacher in the Charlie Brown animated shows.
We have to step back and realize that although we have important things to say and ideas to share, so do others. And guess what, their thought or idea just might be the better one, but we dismissed them because we needed to hear our own voice above the rest. It’s about giving empowerment not about being arrogantly powerful. Sometimes, we just need to shut up and listen—truly listen. We just might learn something about others and about ourselves.
While we need less anecdoche, we need more opia—that ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, even though it can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable. Some describe it as an arousal (that can be either pleasant as in an attraction with the other, or unpleasant if one feels threatened). I choose to define it as truly seeing someone’s soul through the portal that is their eyes. We have all heard that the eyes are the window to one’s soul. If you really want to get to know someone, to understand them and to be understood as well, you have to not just look at them, but to actually see them.
When you look at someone, I mean really give them your undivided attention while they are speaking, wonderful things can happen. It’s scary to have the feelings of being invasive into someone’s life and they, in turn, are as equally frightened to expose their vulnerable side. It’s scary because we realize that by taking this action, we expose ourselves.
I speak from experience when I tell you to “Feel the fear and do it anyway!” (Thanks to Gloria Manchester for speaking that phrase over and over on a cold, soul-baring, soul-healing weekend in 2013; it’s been my mantra ever since!)
Embracing our own vulnerabilities helps us to help ourselves and others. At the end of the day, we all want to be seen, hear, felt and understood. We just don’t always know how to get there.
I urge you to begin today with a new challenge: don’t always talk or need to have the last word. Focus on active and passive listening, ask thoughtful, intelligent clarifying questions, don’t assume that your way is the only way. Listen to others to understand. Don’t simply be a contributor to the anecdoche.
Your second challenge is to not just listen half heartedly, but to fully engage with people you meet, with your family, with your coworkers. Look them in the eye; truly see them. Embrace vulnerability and meet them in a place that may be a bit uncomfortable or seemingly unnatural. I am confident new and wonderful things can happen because today, you learned two new words, you accepted the challenge, and you made a conscious choice to try something with a new and fresh perspective!