Gifts That Cost Nothing

“By taking the time to stop and appreciate who you are and what you’ve achieved – and perhaps learned through a few mistakes, stumbles and losses – you actually can enhance everything about you. Self-acknowledgment and appreciation are what give you the insights and awareness to move forward toward higher goals and accomplishments.” ~ Jack Canfield

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” ~ Maya Angelou

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, and a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring. All of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

Listening is one of the best gifts you can give another person. In fact, it’s so important that I think I’m going to make it my word for next year.

I learned to listen from my father. He was a the greatest listener I have ever known. When I did something wrong, instead of punishing me right off, he’d sit down with me and say, “Now tell me what you were thinking when you did that?” And he’d listen. I don’t remember the punishments, I remember that he cared enough about me to listen to my side of the story and then gave me guidance about how I might change my behavior in the future.

The other way I learned to listen was by being an actor. Countless actors have said that the best tool in the actor’s toolbox is listening. An actor listens to their fellow actors in a scene and then they have to decide how to react or respond given their character’s background and emotional bent.

Listening in real life is sort of the same thing. It’s an interaction between two or more people that involves many more layers than just the words being spoken. There are the nonverbal clues, and trying to understand the intention of the person speaking, then deciding how you feel about that.

Let me give you an example. The other day while planning to make homemade tomato soup, I pulled the bag of tomatoes out of the freezer and left them in the sink. Barry put them in the fridge later that day. A day or two later, Barry said to me, “Be sure to drain the tomatoes before making the soup,” to which I replied looking him straight in the eyes, “I’m not stupid.” Well, as you can imagine that set of a little bit of a heated discussion.

Later I sat down to think about what had happened and how I could respond differently. This is what I came up with. Barry’s intention wasn’t to belittle me in any way. He’s not like many of the men in my religious studies program, or the men who thought I needed to change my major, or men I’d worked with on my various jobs, or on projects at church. I tried to tell him that, when he said those kinds of things to me, what I heard was that he thought I was not capable of critical thinking. Of course, that’s not how he feels at all. He’s just detail oriented and wanted to be sure the soup turned out the way we like it.

After I processed those thoughts, I remembered something Wayne Dyer used to say, “We can decided whether or not to be offended.” I was allowing what had happened to me in the past affect my response to Barry, when really I should have just said, “Thanks. I thought of that.” and moved on.

I bring all this up because this week three things happened in the discourse about sexual harassment. First, Rose McGowan attacked Meryl Streep in public for not supporting other women who had been abused in various ways by Harvey Weinstein, Matt Damon made a statement making suggestions about the same issue, and Jody Foster made similar statements on Stephen Colbert.

What Jody Foster said makes so much sense. Women need to tell their stories and those stories need to be listened to and believed, but there comes a time when we need to allow men into the discussion. We need to take a look at where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we want to go in relations between women and men. And we have to do that together. From what I’ve read, Matt Damon was trying to do that, but a Twitter storm of condemnation was aimed at him. And as for Rose McGowan, I think she was wounded so badly by Harvey Weinstein that she needs our support until she has a chance to heal.

I understand what it feels like to be so hurt that you can’t see straight. It’s happened to me. And while I was in that wounded state, I was completely unreasonable. To me the world was a hostile place and almost everything anyone said to me I viewed as an attack. There are lots of wounded people, both men and women, all around the world. We have to listen to their stories, because as Oprah has said, “People just want to be heard.” And as we listen, we have to refrain from judgment. Just being a witness is sometimes enough to help a person start their healing journey.

Then, once those who have been abused have had a chance to heal and feel more safe, then we can begin to have productive dialogue about how to fix male/female relationships.

These steps can apply to any public discourse as well as one-on-one relationships. I’ve lived through the process myself. One the greatest gifts I have ever received is to have someone listen to my story with complete support and without trying to fix or judge me. I’m grateful to all those people who let me be a mess for a while and loved me anyway.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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