We really do not give Kindergarten the credit it deserves when it comes to the values it encapsulates. Some wise soul decided to craft a book about the lessons learned in the year prior to jumping both feet into the academic rat race. Its humble wittiness is endearing.
Ms. Wahloo was the delightful name of my Kindergarten teacher. Imagine the vivacious teacher from The Magic School Bus and you’ve got an idea of the soul that graced the classroom that year. To grab the attention of 20+ youngsters with the attention spans of hamsters, she would clap out a pattern to signal us to follow suit. Then, she would place a finger over her mouth and poise two fingers with her other hand above her head. Again, the expectation was for us little humans to copy the pose. Years later, I connected the dots and realized the two fingers meant listen with both ears.
What a lesson this is, that is so underappreciated once we exit the Kindergarten classroom.
I cannot tell you how many people grace my office that only listen with one ear. One ear to capture the dialogue of the experiences different from their own, and the other ear is distracted by the buzz of their own flustered internal dialogue that is busy preparing to rebuttal whatever narrative is shared by the other.
So often, we become conditioned to listen to respond, forgetting that the true purpose of listening is to understand.
My favorite cop-out line is “I hear what you’re saying but…”
Oy, if only people knew the negating nature of that “but”.
I will admit, I had to complete a master’s program to relearn the original intent of listening, including relearning how to properly attend to those I am engaged with. This meant I had to exercise the art of putting aside my own agenda to sit with the experiences of someone else’s that were different from my own. This was easily one of the most arduous skills to incorporate into my clinical repertoire.
What makes putting a pause on our own agendas so difficult? Perhaps it’s the irritating experience of perceived misunderstanding on behalf of the others involved in the dialogue. Defensiveness derives from a place of vulnerability that nobody wants to validate. If we acknowledge the vulnerability in the room, then we must sit with the fact that it’s an impossible feat to fully “get” the differing perspectives circulating within a discussion. Desperate to cover up our humanness, we latch onto the idealistic expectation of convincing others our experiences are the most “correct”. Yet, all this pattern of interaction does is chase one another around the metaphorical bush.
I work toward normalizing the act of pausing as a clinician. This always throws me back to the stance Ms. Wahloo took with the two fingers high above her head. As youngsters, we adapted to the mindful nature this simple pose signified. We were not focused on the internal dialogue poised to attack in response. Instead, we placed our bumbling agendas to the side and attended with both ears to the thoughts and feelings of the bubbly teacher we adored. Perhaps this is where we get lost. We so often sidestep the compassion that humans are worthy of and get lost in the shame of vulnerability that is cued by hurt feelings.
Something they forget to teach us in grade school is that we must achieve understanding prior to problem solving in any vocalized interaction with others. If we jump right into problem solving, it is as if we begin to build a new house before the old one is finished burning. We must first attend to the fire prior to beginning new construction. This means we must first hit the pause button and tune into the worlds of those we are stuck with in a misunderstanding. Validation of the authentic nature of another’s experiences primes each party for adequate problem solving. It’s enormously helpful to muster up compassion while this pause button is hit, so that we can fight the urge to listen to respond and instead focus on empathizing with the other’s perspectives. This does not mean you must agree with their perspective, but to merely exude empathy that this is in fact the other’s stance on the matter. Similar, yet vastly different.
Your patience will nag you as you first habituate to the engagement of dual-ear listening. It’s difficult to sit with the discomfort of misunderstandings and exude compassion when also experiencing frustration. All completely and utterly valid experiences. Yet, if you’d like to sidestep the mundane sprint around the metaphorical bush of disagreements, this practice of listening with both ears will pay off in the long run.
Plus, that Kindergarten teacher would be quite proud.
Heck, they would probably even give you a sticker.