I spent my early years as a talker—one who told stories to her dolls and instructed them how to behave in imaginary social situations. Although I was a good student, teachers often labeled me as loquacious, as the student who raised her hand but spoke before being called on. Only when my parents and paternal grandmother told me stories did I stop speaking and start listening. The more they shared, the more I learned the value of not just hearing the words of others but of listening to the meaning behind those words.
As a teacher, I always entered the classroom with confidence. After all, I had a master’s degree, while my students were still in middle school. I had so much to teach them about the nuances within a poem, the magic of putting words together to create a grammatically correct sentence, and the satisfaction of writing a paper that engaged readers. However, I quickly realized that to succeed, I also needed to listen to my students—to understand why they had not done their homework or why a certain book confused or mesmerized them. Listening taught me more than I could ever teach; it transformed my students from names on an attendance sheet to individuals with their own strengths and challenges.
I now try to incorporate listening into all my interactions, including those with my friends and especially those with my various physicians. Digesting the words of friends enables me to support them— to accept them, foibles and all, without judgment. When my doctors speak to me—addressing my complaints about ongoing jaw and head pain after five surgeries, suggesting ways to turn my weight loss into healthy eating, and acknowledging my fears about growing older—I feel like my listening will allow me to step out of the emotional rabbit hole into which I am slowly but surely falling.
Being a single mother made it difficult for me to see my now adult son and daughter as grown-ups, not as the children and adolescents I inundated with my so-called wise words about how to live life. Although the process is a gradual one, I am slowly learning to listen to them. I have discovered that they are insightful individuals, and that listening to them could brighten my life.
I still talk too much, but I also know that listening is more golden than speaking.
Ronna L. Edelstein