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Samuel, a reader at the book club, sent me an email about my recent "Stand Down" column. I'd written about how when I'm listening to someone talk about a problem or worry they're dealing with, my first inclination is to offer my opinion. But instead, lately I've been telling myself to "Stand down." Samuel agrees with my new strategy...
I used to belong to an organization called 'The Samaritans,' known also in some countries as 'Befrienders International.' Volunteers man the phone lines from a fixed location, working in shifts, and what they are supposed to do is to take calls from people who are suicidal, near suicidal, or otherwise going through problems that are causing depression which might eventually lead to suicide.
One of the first principles taught to their volunteers was that they should not offer advice--'do not offer advice.' We were taught that most people already know what they need to do, but they just need to unload--to have someone listen to them. And I know from other personal experience that having someone stop and listen attentively--without speaking--to whatever is bothering you can be very therapeutic.
They also taught that you didn't know the totality of the circumstances, in which the callers found themselves, and it was possible, that because of insufficient knowledge, your advice might do more harm than good.
Just confirming the point of your posting today--listening is very often (most often) more needed than advice, and often more useful as well."--Samuel (Sam)
One of the greatest compliments a book club reader can give me is when they send a note saying that my column made them remember something in their own life, and that's what happened to me today. Thank you so very much Samuel, you made me remember...
One of the toughest, but most rewarding jobs I ever had was all about sitting in a room with someone. I was part of a volunteer program, and once a week I visited terminally ill people in the hospital. I had attended a six-week training course, but nevertheless, I was really nervous the first night I went to do my volunteer work. I assumed that trying to figure out what to say to someone who was dying, would be the tough part of the job, but it wasn't. Actually the most difficult thing was learning how to feel comfortable just sitting in a room with someone, and not talking at all.
When I first walked into someone's room, we'd exchange pleasantries and a bit of small talk. But then most of the people that I visited just really wanted me to sit by them. And if the quiet stretch got too long, or they just felt the need to, they'd talk about what was on their mind: their fears, their concerns, their hopes for how they'd wrap things up before moving on. But most of my job was simply sitting. Sitting in the quiet of the night; no television, no radio, just the occasional loudspeaker page for a nurse or a doctor who was needed somewhere.
Two people, sitting together, keeping each other company and it felt good.
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.
* This month's Penguin Classics book is TOMORROW IS NOW, by Eleanor Roosevelt. Click the link below to start reading, and be sure to enter the drawing for your chance to win a Penguin tote bag: http://www.supportlibrary.com/bc/v.cfm?L=drclassqqxqB1AFE3FA4999&c=CLASSICS