I have always been a chatterbox. I like to talk. In school I got in a lot of trouble for talking too much, but now as an adult, my gift of the gab is one of my greatest assets as a rabbi, author and speaker.
Except for the fact that sometimes, my inability not to put in my two cents gets me into trouble. Like when my spouse expresses difficulties with a colleague at work, and I immediately started offering up (unhelpful) solutions on how to improve his office relationships. Or when my congregant expressed loneliness a year after her husband’s death, I kept “suggesting” (unrealistic, at least for her, at that point in her grieving process) ways to get out and socialize (easier said than done, right?). Or like when my friend’s daughter was lamenting to me about the woes of teenage hood, and I tried (unsuccessfully) to comfort her with the horror stories of my own adolescence. Of course I was trying to be helpful. It is always easier to tell others what they should do rather than actually hear what they are feeling and experiencing, right?
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Except what I have come to realize is that what my spouse, my congregant, and my friend’s daughter really needed from me in those moments wasn’t my solutions for how to “fix” their problem. What they really needed from me was simply to listen. Because while talking has never been a problem for me, listening has not come quite as easily. I have always tried hard to be a “good listener.” After all my job involves a lot of counseling, and what I’ve come to realize over almost 20 years of counseling individuals of all ages, religions and backgrounds is that the best possible way to help people through difficult or painful times in their lives isn’t to give them an earful of advice; it’s to shut up and listen. And here are the reasons why:
1. Sometimes the process of healing is more valuable than the healing itself. We live in a society that says, if something breaks fix it immediately. And while it makes perfect sense to call a plumber when the sink is stopped, it makes no sense when the soul breaks. The greatest gift we can give to another is to be with them in their discomfort or pain and let them feel uncomfortable without trying to “fix “it. This is true acceptance of another human being – it’s the respect for another person’s feelings and emotions, something all of us crave.
2. Time is the most precious gift one can give. In today’s fast-paced, “always on” world where we are all constantly rushing from here to there, we seem to always be running out of time. So when we say to someone, I have the time to just listen and not comment, what we are actually saying to them is, “You matter to me. You are important in this world and I am willing to sacrifice my most valuable asset for you.” What could be a better expression of love?
3. Giving people advice robs them of the opportunity to resolve their issues themselves. Most of us are quite capable of being our own best guru and guide – if only we had true companions who could just be with us rather than talk at us. Then if we do find ourselves actually needing advice at one point, we would know exactly where to find it.
This is why I wrote Thresholds: How to Thrive Through Life’s Transitions to Live Fearlessly and Regret Free: not to give people advice or try to solve their problems for them, but instead to help them call upon their own reserves of insight and wisdom to navigate the transitional moments in their lives. In my personal and professional life I realized that all of us need a resource to help us be our own guru; we all need tools to help us listen – to ourselves and others – more attentively, more authentically, and more compassionately when called upon to deal with the challenges in our lives, both big (think divorce or grieving) and small, (think starting a gym regimen or giving up chocolate cake). Because if we all had a way of becoming better listeners, a way of approaching those moments when we don’t know what to do or say and simply listen to our inner voices rather than try to “fix”’ our own pain, maybe those moments wouldn’t be so difficult, so frightening. And if we could then learn how to offer that same compassionate ear to others, maybe then we could be the friends, the spouse, the parent we really want to be. Then we could cross the thresholds in front of us fearlessly with courage, confidence and love.
About the Author: SHERRE HIRSCH was a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles for eight years and is the Spiritual Life Consultant and a speaker for Canyon Ranch. She appeared regularly on Noami Judd’s New Morning. She has been featured on Today, Tyra, and PBS’s Thirty Good Minutes and is also a contributor to Momlogic.com. Hirsch lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Photo Credit: Ammentorp Photography/Shutterstock