Early on in the first year of the Listening Post, a woman came to the door with some hesitancy, so I rose to greet her. With a quizzical look on her face, she asked what a Listening Post was. Eager to tell her about our unique offering, I explained we offered a quiet space and one-on-one listening, thinking she would be as intrigued as I. Instead, she frowned and raising her index finger and shaking it into my face, she said, “You just listen?! What good is that? Do you know how many needs there are out there? You could be handing out clothes. You could have food. You could let people sleep here. Or at least offer counseling. Listening?? Pooh.”
I could feel anger surging inside me, and I could feel my defense of The Listening Post rising, with well-thought argument and persuasive ideas. I was so ready to enlighten her and set her straight on the value of listening. The anger morphed quickly to self-righteousness and then even superiority. All in less than two seconds.
Then these words slipped in quietly from some other part of my consciousness or maybe Divine guidance,:”JUST LISTEN.”
Yes, I was doing what I so often trained our volunteers not to do. I had said, “Most people listen only long enough to defend their own position. ” That was what I was doing. Sigh. So I took a deep breath and remembered the other words of our training. I simply said, “Tell me more about that.”
The woman went on then to tell of her own needs and her experience of being homeless with older teens and how difficult it was to find help for that age group. “We went to the Holiday Gift Program down at the Fairview Rec Center and there were gifts for all the other kids but none for my 16 year old daughter. She got nothing for Christmas, nothing. ” In that moment, hearing the rest of the story, my own anger disappeared and compassion appeared. Now I could hear her and her grief more completely. And I gave her a place for her anger–at the system, at whatever had happened to make her homeless, at herself? at life? It didn’t matter. In the end, she still was frustrated with us, but her anger was quelled as well. She had been heard. And she came back another day to talk again.
The last lines of our blessing for the Listening Post come from a poem by John O’Donohue. “May you have the eyes to see that no visitor arrives without a gift, and no guest leaves without a blessing.”
She had indeed given me a strange gift with that wagging index finger: I became aware of my ego attachment to the LIstening Post as one of its founders. Here was a trigger that was a barrier to the very purpose of the Listening Post. This woman became my teacher, showing me what truly needed changing: anything in my heart that separated us as one human being to another. And listening was the bridge.