A year ago, maybe less, maybe more, at dinner, a discussion.
It was an evening designed for people to get to know each other. I desperately wanted it to go well. I don’t think it did.
One person talked while the other listened. One felt the other had no interest because she was not being asked questions. She felt asking questioning was how someone showed interest in another. The other person felt the first wasn’t listening because she was asking questions but not hearing the narrative, looking for answers instead of stories. Both were exploring the other the way they felt the other person would feel valued and wanted, sure to feel the interest flowing. We so often relate to others the way we wish them to relate to us, regardless of our different ways of being.
It didn’t work.
I am thinking of Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Played by Whoopi Goldberg, Guinan was long-lived and came from “a race of listeners.” She ran Ten Forward. Café, bar, meeting hall. She was a bartender, but, like the archetypal bartender, she was a counselor, psychologist, and, when her patrons needed it, when a crew member was confused, she listened. She listened long, and deeply, and, on rare occasion, cut through the morass of conflict and over-thinking with a single well-placed question one could only form after deep listening.
Guinan is the only action figure I own.
Some of us see our lives as points. Events. Memories. Some of us as narratives, stories, chronologies with highlights. And we so often wish to learn about others in the way we see our own lives.
Maybe it runs in families. My son, he listens. I can’t really remember Lee asking people many questions at all. She would know you or would not, and the facts rarely mattered. My daughter, Sef, too.
Arlene likes to ask questions, and be asked questions. It is how she feels one shows interest in another. It is also how she feels someone shows interest in her. Fair enough. They are good, solid questions. Questions of meat and bone. Helpful and direct. And she listens too, picks up on subtle things, notices nuance. Still, the questions have taken me a bit to get used to.
And I know she often finds my lack of questions befuddling. Mine are few. I like to make them count.
Craig asks questions which are intense and probe deeply. It is quite a skill. He asks them with near surgical exactitude. He has noticed I take much delight in derailing his attempts at interrogation.
Trish asks rapid-fire questions and rarely waits for an answer before the next. I usually just stare at her until she stops.
Alicia rarely asks a question, but when she does, it is thoughtful, wide, and beautifully ambiguous, and I have to think to answer.
Susie. Other than “What are you doing Sunday?” “Can I put a load of laundry in?” or “Can I help?” has not, that I can recall, ever asked me a question. But she knows me. She listens well. Yet, she, and others, know me. Each differently, for we are never exactly the same to each person we know, but, each in their own way, has come to know who I am.
We each have our own way, and sometimes those ways cross and we find we don’t quite know how to relate to the other person. It can take some adapting, some getting used to, some cutting of slack, as it were, and some understanding that we all relate to the world, and each other, in different ways.
As for me:
I want to discover you,
To listen to you,
Wander with you, ramble
The trails of your life
As your stories
Give away the who of you,
The how of you.
I want to press my ear to you
And sound the depths,
Hear the murmurings
Of desires and disappointments
And wander within the walls of you
Feeling for the edges,
The borders hard and soft.
See the flashes in the dark
stumble upon the permanent midnights,
Your heart, your soul.
The who of you, the how of you,
Even the why of you,
But the what of you,
If it should come clear
In the course of time, that is fine,
But I’ll not ask.
The data points and trivia of you
Will come as needed,
I’ll not ask,
You needn’t tell.
I know what I need to know.
Others will ask questions,
Probe, collect information.
It is their way to discover
What they feel
Is the measure of you.
But I say, come,
And let us walk a while.
I want to listen.
I love to listen to people ramble. That is when I learn the most. As they go on, I learn their history, likes, dislikes, pet-peeves, I hear what makes them tick and what makes them sick, what makes the glow and what leaves hem cold. I hear where their heart is and where their soul resides. Rarely will I ask a question unless there is something I find confusing, or I see confusion and it occurs to me a question might bring clarity. But they are few. I want them to count.
Like Guinan, who stands on the sill over my computer, I want to listen. Always listen.