Photography by Matt Wyatt

The Company of a Listener

She takes the heavy weighted fork in her hand and pokes at her pancake as if it were a dead fish. Her excitement for the catch is slowly dwindling as she feels the gravity of the moment reel her in. “I just can’t…” she says.

“But you can, anyone can” he interrupts.

She looks even more deflated.

“You just have to project your voice,” he says matter-of-fact, as if it’s the simplest thing in the world and even she should be able to do it.

“It’s just that I…” she tries to muster up an explanation.

“What? What’s that? You see, I can’t hear you.” He holds his hand up to his ear, signaling for her to speak up. He places his hand on his throat, toggling his Adam’s apple and offers her step by step instructions. “I learned it in ministry” he tells her.

Aren’t ministers supposed to be kind and compassionate, she wonders.

“When your in front of a large crowd, you have to speak loud so the whole audience can hear you.”

She didn’t know she was here to perform, but suddenly she starts to feel the stares of the eyes all around her. She wants to explain her hesitation, she wants him to understand her past, but she decides that it will be easier just to go along. “Oh, now I get it” she says, a little louder than before.

He nods his head in approval.

She doesnt get it at all.

This was my perpective of a conversation I overheard while out to eat some time ago. The couple was on what I presume to be their third or fourth date. The guy was confident and certain he was right. The girl was hesitant and uncertain if she could keep going.

For whatever reason she had a naturally gentle voice. It might be something that she has known all her life and has been pointed out to her again and again or maybe it was never a problem until he brought it up. Maybe she was timid an nervous, in which case, his persistence wasnt helping.

I felt awful for her. I wanted to badly to point out the discomfort that was all over her face and in her trembling hands. How could he be so insensitive and demanding I thought to myself.

Somewhere in the midst of my wanting to stand up for her, I wondered if I had ever made anyone feel that way. I’m a very black and white thinker and tend to believe most people see things the way I do. Logically, of course, I know that isn’t true. I have to make an effort to remain open to the different perspectives of others and the background experiences that shape them, it doesn’t always come naturally. However, I find that when I am, I see new horizons, colors and details I may have never noticed before.

It’s because of this, I have decided that learning should always be more important than being right. When we position ourselves to learn about someone instead of prove them wrong, we invite them into a safe space. Healing happens in selflessness. We need more of this in our culture. Too many people hide in shame with no one to talk with, a genuine listening ear. Too many people have been judged and ousted. Life isn’t meant to be spent feeling like something is wrong with you. Affinity is found in the company of a true listener and a connoisseur of perspectives.


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