I was driving down the road, fiddling with the radio and I accidentally tuned into a call-in show. A young girl had called in with a problem regarding her sexual identity. As I listened, it became increasingly evident that the host offered no meaningful advice whatsoever. However, by reflecting on her situation (and since the host was offering no useful guidance) the young woman seemed to come to grips with her situation. In retrospect, I think the radio show was a comedy routine (or I accidentally stumbled onto the campiest radio program ever broadcast).
However, it made me think of an earlier incident in my own life. I was appointed a chapter leader in the Buddhist group I belong to, and occasionally I offer guidance to members in my spiritual community. On a couple of occasions, people have told me how I had helped them. Of course, as the author of a self-help book that has been stalled in the publishing process, I sometimes need an encouraging word or two myself.
Just the other day, Barbara, a wise and funny woman I’ve known for years, called me on the phone. She told me about some difficulties she was facing. Barbara is a very optimistic and humorous woman (she is also a professional clown), so she definitely has a way of communicating that is down right engaging. She always makes me laugh. I’m not sure if I was in a receptive mood, or just really didn’t know what to say, so I listened. At the end of our conversation, Barbara told me how much I had helped her. This was ironic, because I really hadn’t said much. I just listened.
It was a very similar scenario with the radio talk show host. He hadn’t said much of anything (or at least nothing useful) but by the end of the conversation, the caller seemed to have discovered her own answer. I thought about this. I am a problem solver. That is how my brain operates. And when my mind is clicking, my tongue (with its endless stream of advice) is not far behind.
However, I have to remind myself to temper my loquacious tendency and reflect on the famous words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” While advice can be appreciated, more often than not, a friendly and sympathetic ear is valued more. While there may be exceptions, I do believe that most of us, given the time to reflect, intuitively know the answer we are seeking. We just need to take the time, and be sensitive enough, to listen to our own inner wisdom.
With that in mind, this blog entry will be short. When a friend asks for advice, take the time to listen. You may find that no words are necessary. And when you are struggling with a decision, take a few deep breaths and listen to your own inner voice. There is quote (and I’m paraphrasing) Speak less and listen more. No one learned anything worthwhile from talking. That said, I will say no more.
Until next time…