Ears to Hear

I recently had the privilege of speaking to around twenty-five Occupational Therapy students regarding my experience with Spinal Cord Injury. It always amazes me how much I have forgotten that I have actually lived through. I get into telling stories and before long I realize that even Forest Gump would be jealous. What is truly fascinating is how as I get older and things change the same stories and experiences take on new meaning and perspective. Also, the feedback and questions I get from people who know nothing about SCI tell me a lot about what is happening and the future of treatment, especially when they come from people embarking on a career in medicine.

All too often those preparing for a career in a medically-related field do so out of a need for job security. This used to make me angry. I can see now in our day how people are motivated because of fear and uncertainty, so I try to be patient and encourage them before they really get out there in the hopes that maybe, just maybe they will understand that they could be saving a life. Every once in a while you meet a student who is there for the right reasons. This particular group seemed to be one of those good groups.

Towards the end of the Q&A one of the more outgoing students asked me one question no-one has ever asked me. They said, "Of all the therapists you have worked with, what has been the trait that made them the best?" Before I could stop myself I heard myself say, "Listening."

Listening is a rare skill. Too few possess it. Many think they do. Some actually try, but in reality, more often than not we are waiting for the other person to shut up so we can give our already-formulated opinion we have based on our own experiences, deeply-held beliefs, fears, and desires. Further more we really offer the advice that benefits our own motives and furthers our own agenda. Okay, okay, I know that's a major downer, but think about something for a minute... What is the first thing people say when you ask them if they know of a good doctor? "I recommend Dr. So-and-So, he takes time to really listen!" Do you see what I mean?

The first sign of a trustworthy person is whether or not you know they are really hearing what you are not only saying, but expressing in your face, gestures, body language, and tone of voice. This is often one of the key reasons men and women have communication breakdowns. Women read signals, subtext, and emotion. Men don't see the difference between the assembly directions on a new Ikea cabinet and an emotionally-charged conversation about where you see the relationship in five years. Listening is an art, you are not born with it, you practice it, you develop it as an act of you're own will power.

I am not going to write a long, passionate post this month. No sappy holiday-themed posts here. I am only going to offer a simple suggestion for a better end of 2015. Shut up. You heard me. Right about the time your Uncle Whoever offers his opinion on the elections and you want straighten out his deal, shut up. When your self-absorbed cousin wants to wax lyrical about their up-coming surgery and you want to swap horror stories, have another piece of pie. That's why they call it a pie hole. When you're alone, and left with all the dishes and you want to curse all those sycophantic, ungrateful wretches... finish off the damn pie and be grateful no-one took it home.

Next time it will get easier, then more so after that, and before you know it you'll find yourself actually forgetting about yourself and actually caring about that other person. Then, when you do open your mouth it will have value and weight and who knows, it may save a life. Practice it at home. Practice it at work. Practice it every chance you get.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. Thanks for your open hearted post! Appreciate the wisdom! Need to do more shutting up myself!

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  2. This is timely and solid advice. I will shut my pie hole, and that will be my gift to those I love, but an even greater gift to those I don't love.

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  3. another great post, my dear....and i will take your advice and just shut up...enjoy your first thanksgiving on the farm! love + rockets cb

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  4. As one of the students from that group, I have to say you and your story are truly amazing! Thank you for taking time out of your day to share your experiences with us.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words John, the honor was all mine!

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  5. Hi Caleb, I am a student from that OT class you spoke to and I just have to say everything you said that evening was very powerful, and thank you for being so encouraging. I couldn't help but share your thoughts with some of my close friends and family, and it was very encouraging for them as well. You have certainly helped one, if not many future practitioners become that much better at what we will do one day. Thank you!

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    1. God bless you Marvin, and keep changin' the world!

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  6. Oh how I wish I read this post yesterday when my best friend was venting about a difficult situation and I proudly cut her off to give her the feedback and advice I thought she wanted/could use. I could've really used a "shut your pie hole moment" then, sans pie. This post took me back to her reaction post-advice and I now realize how unnecessary it was. I don't even think she asked me what I thought.. but I was so eager to help her, to calm her down, I failed to realize that she didn't need it nor wanted it. She had the problem, yes, but she also had the solution. I just needed to listen. Thanks for reminding us of this simple, yet grand act. I will always think of you and this post prior to opening my mouth! By the way, our entire class enjoyed listening to you so much! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I think most -- if not all of us, took home a different kind of knowledge then we expected when we sat for class that day. It was great to learn about all the medical advances that have taken place in the treatment of spinal cord injuries, but it was even better to learn about how such a debilitating condition has empowered and created a stronger man.

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    1. Hi Angie, thank you for your heartfelt comment. It's not easy to humbly admit when we make a mistake. You are a true champion and an awesome woman. It was an honor to speak to your class, and it means even more you took time to write! Hope you have a happy holiday season!

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