We spend our childhood learning how to speak and once we become the parent, we have to learn how to really listen.
Sure, we listen as a child, but we listen to gather what is important to us. We find words and ideas that we can integrate into our own knowledge, our own practice, our own expression.
As a parent, though, we have to listen to gather what is important to those who depend on us. We need to be aware of their needs and concerns, being present and helping them be grow and be cared for in the world.
In the 90s, I got a lot of crap on a butch/femme list because I talked about the role of the parent too much. Most of the list members were young women and they didn’t appreciate the demands and obligations I was trying to work with.
Now it is clear to me that I was trying to explain what I had to learn to take care of the people around me. I had parents who couldn’t listen to me, couldn’t mirror me, couldn’t care for me in real, emotional ways and I had to figure stuff out.
I see my acting out as a child in a different light now, but I still see the obligation of the parent. You have to listen with devotion, persistence and intensity to both help kids find their own expression and to do the work to create a safe space for them to grow, investing in community and commerce that helps provide for them.
It is vital to learn to listen, to become the parent. Parents fight with their kids not to annoy them, as kids may sometimes feel, but because we know that holding high expectations, demanding better, demanding responsibility and demanding mature behaviour helps them grow into better people, into better parents.
In a review of a memoir about someone facing their addictions, the reviewer noted that by definition, the arc of these books is always front loaded; the exciting, dramatic, intense stuff is at the beginning and the healing process leads to a calmer, more centred finale. There is no big denouement, no bang at the end, rather the climax is mature, peaceful, and, we can only hope, satisfying.
To tell a hot-headed child that the best possible outcome of their life is moving beyond self-centred intense sensation, beyond a demand to be heard and to a point of quiet reflection where you can actually hear is often a very tough go. They need their exuberance, their passion, their battle to make a name for themselves in the world.
If they haven’t had people who did mirror them, did challenge them, did demand better from them, though, then they won’t have the focus and persistence required to build a solid foundation for their life. Instead, they will be scattered and indulgent, wasting their power rather than consolidating it.
To listen intently is to help give the gift of focused and effective expression to others.
The gift of gracious receiving
is one of the greatest gifts
we can give anyone.
— Mister Fred Rogers
I only learned to speak after I learned to listen. That, like so many things in my life, was backwards. Harville Hendrix reminds us that people can’t actually heard us until they believe that we have heard them. They follow the standard life pattern, speaking and then listening.
I’m good at listening, but I am bad at believing anyone will listen to me. I have learned to speak audaciously, but not to trust my own cute or charming, merely wise, witty and very reflective.
As children we learn to speak and as parents we learn to listen, and the only way that works is if we master both of those parts with deep commitment. Speak to connect you with the world, listen to connect the world with you.
If that pattern is futzed up, like it is for transwomen who were denied the truth of their voices, who were more about running and hiding than about showing up, well, things don’t work as well. We don’t build the foundation of showing the best of us, which can easily limit our ability to engage the world with vulnerability and grace.
A great human life is about showing up with all the brilliance and all the humility we can muster, being boldly ourselves while being open & caring to others being boldly themselves.