Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 25, 2003
Listen and you can hear the heart
I was on the first half semester of my clinical pastoral education program at Vancouver General Hospital when my supervisor called me on entertaining my own "noises" while visiting with patients.
He read it of course from the verbatim reports of my visits with the patients. What did he mean by noises?
Let me tell you of an incident.
One patient was telling me that he was forced to put down his dog because it bit three children in the neighbourhood.
When he mentioned the dog biting some children, memories of my grandmother, who died from dog rabies, came back to me. My mind wandered off to the last day I saw her alive in the hospital fighting for her life. I tried not to show any sign that my mind was wandering off to some other place while I was there visiting with him. To conceal my divided attention I looked him in the eyes and tried to focus on what he was telling me. At the same time images of my grandma continued to flash in my mind.
The patient did not indicate that I was not giving him my full attention. He did not even make any comment that I was distracted. I seemed to have succeeded in concealing my divided attention.
But I had to write that in the verbatim report of the visit. In ministry, verbatim is a written report by the students on their pastoral experiences, including recounting conversations as closely to verbatim as possible and writing personal assessments of what was done well and what could have been done better. That made listening attentively crucial.
In the report we were to include non-verbalized parenthetical remarks we made to ourselves during the visit as well as some issues within us that were triggered by a word, an event or object. My supervisor called them "noises."
We were told we can listen to our "noises" but we cannot entertain them at that time. We have to bracket them, put them aside and deal with them later. This is so that we can listen more and talk less, because most of the time that's what patients need: to be listened to.
But why do most of us love to talk more than to listen? This somehow defies the wisdom behind the physiology of our human body. We were created with two ears and one mouth so that we listen more than we talk.
Marketing guru Edward Peters said, "A person who is successful in sales does all the listening and the customers do all the talking.
"It's hard to ask questions because we are always thinking of the answers," Peters said. "You need to listen to people and interact with people. You can't make predetermined judgments of people. The key is listening."
The same holds true in journalism. Since I went back to writing professionally, I forced myself to hone my listening skills. It is one of the primary tools of a reporter. When I listen attentively to others and try not to pay attention to my own "noises" at the same time, I can hear better. And because I can hear better, I can tell stories better.
This is what this new column is all about: listening, hearing and sharing.
Through this column I want to continue telling stories: my stories, stories of people I met and will meet, stories to which my own generation and other generations can relate. I hope we can learn from these stories.
I want to share my reflections about faith, culture and life. I want to share my journey and how I respond to different challenges along the road. I want to share my "echoes within."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.