On Listening

By Doug Manning

The ear is the most powerful part of the human body. We can do more with our ears than we can ever do with our tongues. One of the startling discoveries of my life was when I noticed how trained I was to talk and how untrained to listen.

Ears can turn grief into growth. We do not take grief away from folks - we simply help them walk through it. The method of walking through is to talk it out. We need to talk it out to a pair of good ears.

If you want to heal folks, learn to lay ears on them. People must solve their own problems. We cannot do it for them. We cannot work out their thinking or their feelings because it is impossible for us to know what the person really thinking or feeling in the depth of their soul. We can give them the ingredient needed to work them out for themselves by listening while they talk.

Somehow, listening is hard to do. We feel we must say something. To not have an answer is to somehow prove we are not competent. Folks will put pressure on us to do so. They will even tell us we are not giving them an answer. When they say something like that, we tend to flinch inside and rush to the defence of our knowledge.

If we can quietly sit there without reacting defensively when they apply this pressure, they will soon drop the pressure and let the talk flow. This takes great courage, but when it is done the flow of their talk helps them sweep away the collected crud of their experiences.

People learn while they talk. they may be saying horrible things at the time, but while they are saying them, their anger and frustration levels are shrinking. Hew insights are forming. After the storm there is s new place.

I have used ears to help the dying as well as the living. The first time I ever pulled a chair up to a bed and heard a person tell me they were going die, I wanted to run. The urge to rush in with all sorts of assurances that they were not going to die was almost overwhelming. I braced myself and said, “Yes, it is certainly possible that you are - do you want to talk about it?” What followed was one of the great experiences of my life. I said very little, but a person worked through the fear of death using my ears.

This need is especially deep during grief. The ability to just listen is the greatest help possible in every stage to grief. During the time of shock they need to tell their story again and again. As reality dawns, they need an ear to explain it to. When reactions begin, they need an ear to accept with no reactions to the stage they are in. There are times when folks scream, “Friends, Roman, Countrymen, or anyone -- lend me your ear.”

The person who has good ears becomes a walking-touching-personal intensive care unit.

From: A Minister Speaks About Funerals, Doug Manning revised edition – 1978.