Listening is at the core of Mental Health First Aid. Listening is the most important thing any of us can do for another. It is the first thing a baby needs its parents to do. Listen, take notice, understand what it needs. If the baby cries, and the mother assumes it is hungry, but infact its nappy is wet, it’s going to keep on crying regardless of being fed. So we learn to listen, to interpret, to hear subtle differences.
With adult communication though listening gets harder. There’s so much noise, both actual and metaphorical. So many of our own beliefs, emotional responses, opinions, get in the way. And as my co-trainer so often points out, usually, we listen in order to see what we have to respond to. We listen to answer. So half of our mind is taken up thinking of what we think about what is being said, so we don’t actually hear it properly. To listen to hear, and understand, is quite different. It requires us to put our own beliefs, opinions, emotions, to one side for a while, and just open our ears and hearts. Understand what is being said and how it feels, what it means to the person speaking. You can reflect on how you feel later, after you have listened.
It isn’t easy, but it is enormously generous and valuable if you can be there and listen for a friend in need.
A poem over on the moodscope blog says it pretty well too.