She appeared suddenly in the doorway. Her tiny frame bore saggy leggings and a pink T-shirt with an unidentifiable creature on the front. Her feet were bare. In one hand she held a plastic, spiky structure, and in the other, a Ziploc bag full of teeny, tiny colored rubber bands. “I am going to make you a bracelet,” she announced as she started towards the couch, on which I reclined. I had been staying with my friend for two nights, and within that brief amount of time I had become the possession of her youngest daughter. This morning, the bracelet morning was my last one before heading home to Seattle.
THE ART OF LISTENING
“How long do you want it?” she asked as she descended to the floor beside me. I thought carefully as she set up her “Rainbow Loom.” I held up my hands (about six inches apart). “Nope, I am going to make you a long one so it dangles.” I put my hands down. “What colors do you want?” I considered, for a moment, whether I would actually ever wear this bracelet, and what color would be the most unobtrusive to accent my signature black wardrobe. “Black,” I said. Her face pinched in disapproval. “Black and green…?” I countered. More pinching… “You want green and blue,” she dictated. She pulled out green and blue tiny little rubber bands and started twisting them onto the loom. She stopped. “Do you want some sparkles?” I replied, “No, Thank You,” and she said, “Yes, you do.” She pulled green and blue sparkly rubber bands from the bag. She hummed as she worked. “I can do it thick or thin. Which do you want?” Dare I answer? “Thin,” I said. “No,” she retorted, just as I feared, “Thicker is going to look better on you.” She got back to work.
Bryn is six. Our conversation was age appropriate. She was basing her comments, and overruling decisions on her little world of experience. She truly thought that not allowing me to have a thin, black, tight, bracelet was in my best interest. She absolutely knew in her mind that a blue, green, sparkly, thick, and dangly version was going to be much better for me.
I replayed our conversation as she worked. I felt a revelation coming. Oh, crap! How many times had I assumed I knew what was ideal for a friend, and given direction based on assumptions? How many times had I listened inadequately because I had already decided how the problem should be solved? How many times had I given advice based on my small world?
I recounted all of the “sparkly blue bracelets” I had handed out, thinking that I knew what was best for my friends or family members. I learned something in that moment with Bryn, heavy at her task, in front of me. I learned that I, and possibly we, have a tendency towards assuming we know what is ideal for people based solely on our life experiences. We listen, half-assed, all too ready to offer advice and recommendations.
As Bryn sat intently making my bracelet, I committed to change. I committed to listening without having a “ready” response. I swore to be more aware of my tendencies to assume that I knew what was the solution for someone. I promised to listen openly, and not through the small periscope of my life experiences. Finally, I committed to stop handing out “sparkly blue bracelets” when what was best were black.
Can you practice listening more attentively this week? Can you practice not assuming you know what is best by providing unsolicited advice? Pick one person, a child, a friend or a spouse and don’t FIX anything. Just listen.
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