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May 20, 2003

Many years ago during a tramp in New Zealand, I learned the importance of hearing.

High in the mountains it was quiet except for one lone bird who called out loudly and continuously. Its call was the most tragic, saddest sound I had heard. I asked my friend why it kept making the noise that it did and my friend told me that it was waiting to be heard.

After a few minutes, another bird replied with one long loud sound which silenced the tragic sounding bird; it had been heard and didn’t need to call out anymore.

This past weekend, I was visiting with my four year old niece who is always terribly excited when I come around. We don’t see each other often and always have much to catch up on. For this reason, she repeats Auntie over and over again, vying for my attention.

When I saw her and she started with her Auntie, Auntie and desperately trying to get everything out to me while she could, I slowly kneeled down beside her, put her little hands in mine, looked at her and calmly said, “I hear you. I will hear you until you have told me everything you need to say.”

With that, you could literally see her little body relax. There wasn’t the worry that I would only pay half attention or walk away. She could relax and slowly tell me everything that was important to her whether it be how we could cut and paste a card together or what she learned in school.

There are so many things as people that we have to pay attention to and with the internet and television we are used to scanning, flipping, and catching only bits. The art of listening, of hearing the other person fully, is slipping away. We tend to assume we already know what they’ll say, the answer to the question or that it’s not as important as what might come next. Hearing doesn’t seem to be important anymore.

I very seldom offer advice (how can I presume to know what is best for someone else and their situation?) but what I always offer is to hear a person. Sometimes people don’t want a solution, they just want to be heard. Sometimes people don’t want things; they just want to be heard. Sometimes people don’t want to be patronised, they just want to be heard.

Often I wonder if we really stopped to be fully in the moment of someone telling us their woes, their fears, or their excitements, how much that would really change things. Perhaps that sounds too easy but often the answers to the most complicated questions are the simplest words. Words such as, I hear you.

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