3 – Watch and Listen

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I have long advocated that counselors and teachers should read columns like “Dear Abby.” I mentioned this to a group where I was a guest teacher and the leader, who has counseled for more than fifty years, chimed in with his agreement. Everyone was surprised. They thought those columns were silly.

Our experience in life is pretty limited. We can’t expect to go through all the things others have suffered, nor do we want to. But, if we haven’t gone through it ourselves, how can we understand the struggle of others? By watching and listening.

The questions that come to Dear Abby and others reveal a variety of real-life struggles. Sometimes they are surprising. Sometimes they are very sad. Other times they almost make you laugh. But I have heard enough strange stories from real and honest people that I no longer doubt the veracity of the advice column. The things people do to others are hard to imagine.

There is a real world out there filled with people who struggle, many of them in different ways than you. It is wise to be aware of what is normal and what is not. It is wise to be aware of what could happen in a relationship.

When I started writing on this several weeks ago, I wanted to help readers consider relationships without being afraid. It doesn’t take many times of being burned or used to begin to shy away from relationships. There are certainly ways to enjoy a variety of relationships while reducing the risk.

One of those ways is to watch and listen to the people around you. What works in a relationship? What hurts? What makes a good relationship good?

I know there are classes and teachers that promise to tell us how to think about relationships, but your own observation has real value. What do you see? When you grew up, what did you observe in your parents or other adult relationships? Consider things like the effects of lying, the value of gentle touch, the power of kind or hurtful words.

In other words, live with your eyes and ears open. See the sadness and joy and fear and confusion of others. Listen when they tell their stories. Believe most of them, even when they seem extreme to your perspective. The longer you observe, the more you will understand what is true and what is not.

There are many relationships in our lives. We have considered the importance of boundaries. But what boundaries should you use to protect yourself? And how do you go about doing that? Many of these answers will come as you watch others handle their relationships.

Some of us were taught so strongly to avoid gossip that we learned not to look or listen at all. We have a hard time allowing ourselves to form opinions or draw conclusions because we don’t want to look. But I believe God has put other people in our lives to teach us, stretch us, and show us the variety of personalities and backgrounds. Then, when we meet new people, we have at least some awareness of how they can be different from us.

I know that it is easy for some of us to be drawn into the problems of others. We take sides and get angry when we listen to some of the stories. Try to avoid doing that. Again, the more you observe, the better able you will be to stay objective and see the truth. And you will be more helpful for others.

I also know it is easy for some of us to become callous about the pain others suffer. You can only hear so many stories of pain and suffering without becoming numb. Again, stay objective. You are learning. You are not carrying the weight of the pain. It is possible to listen and care without becoming embroiled in their emotions.

As you learn from observing, you will not only be able to encourage others but also encourage yourself. You will see that many relationships are good and supportive. You will realize that all relationships have weak areas or challenges, but there are ways to overcome these things.

Here’s a quick example. I have had couples tell me that they never want to let their children see them disagree. They don’t want the kids to think that mom and dad get angry with each other. I ask if they do sometimes get angry and disagree. Of course they do. Then what, I ask. Then we make up, they say. So I tell them that their kids will also have disagreements in their relationships, even becoming angry at times. They need to see mom and dad making up. They need to see that there is something good beyond the anger. They can learn that forgiveness and acceptance are normal parts of relationships, just as normal as disagreements.

Watching and listening are important ways God allows us to learn and grow. It’s okay to learn from the struggles and from the joys of others. You might be surprised at the tools you pick up along the way.

1 Comment

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One response to “3 – Watch and Listen

  1. Steve Tompkins

    Very good advice. I love “Dear Abby” type columns! I will be listening and observing more for sure. Thx, Pastor Dave!

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