Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Creative Sisterhood and Really Listening

Tonight was Creative Sisterhood. Virginia wasn't able to be here but the rest of us gathered. It was a different kind of night, but good.

I am continually being reminded these days that listening is important. How often in life do you feel like you're really being heard? I'm guessing it's less often than you would like. Creative Sisterhood is always an opportunity to be heard, and to listen.

Sometimes our most important role is to listen - really listen. Way back when, when I was learning to be a journalist, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from University of Kentucky professor, Maria Braden. The advice was to always be listening to the answer someone gave you during an interview, instead of forming your next question. It's a difficult thing to do when you feel you'll be judged on the quality of your questions.

In various jobs I had - in TV, radio and print - multiple people complimented my interviewing skills. I wanted to take credit, as if I had invented some new way of asking questions. But I knew it was just because Maria Braden lived in my head, gently shaking her finger at me when I had the urge to jump in with another question too soon.

When you really listen, occasionally you hear a barely perceptible hesitation when a person is deciding if they should give voice to a story that hasn't been told until that moment. It's an honor to bear witness to that. And it only happens when you listen. Really, really listen. And pause.

There have been times I was holding my breath in those pauses, waiting for what was next, hoping I was capable of doing justice to the story being formed. When people tell their real stories, they share their souls, something that must be treated with respect.

One of the things I've learned, that I would share with students if I were in the position Maria Braden was, is that people have sometimes been wanting to tell their stories for a very long time. They've just been waiting for someone who would listen. Really listen.

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lillie said...

This is SO true. It is really a magnificent quality to have the ability to listen, and do so with true interest, especially when the temptation is there to try and impress, inform, brag, or complain about our own life.


sigerson said...

I'm sorry, Patsy. What did you say? I wasn't listening.

Patsy Terrell said...

Thanks, Marie.