Teach Listening by Listening

Mom and Dad

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” ~ Bryant H. McGill

“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” ~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about my love of stories and how I can use that passion to help people. Story telling is central to the subjects I’ve been teaching for years, but I’ve felt like I need to break out of my old routine and use my passion in a new way. But how? What would that look like? Then I got a bright idea.

My youngest sister and I often reminisce about discussing movies with our father and how that taught us a great deal about how to deal with life issues. As I’ve been thinking about my passion for stories, I got the idea that my sister and I could write a guide for parents and teachers about using movies to help children deal with the things that happen to them every day.

As I’ve been thinking about how to structure the book, so many memories have come to mind. One of the most meaningful things I learned from those movie discussions that my father, and sometimes mother, had was that my opinions were important to them. I felt like they wanted to know who I was and what I thought.

Now I don’t want you to think I had a perfect family. We had our problems, just like every family does. But it helped me find confidence in myself to know that my parents listened to my side of any situation that arose. They taught me how to communicate effectively by practicing good communication skills with me and discussing movies was a big part of that.

I want to cry when I hear parents say to their children, “Shut up and listen to me.” I think Oprah is right, every person just wants to feel like they are heard. Watching a movie is a fun activity and a great way to give each member of the family a chance to give their opinions about something non-threatening.

So, my sister and I are going to begin working on this book this week. I’m sure it will take us awhile to finish even though it’s going to be short. Perhaps the first tip in the book will be: Use movie discussions to listen to your children.

I’ll probably be trying out other ideas for the book in this blog. You can tell me what you think.

About that, I’ve decided to cut my blog back to one post a week again since my life has become extremely busy. I want to make time for the projects that have been shoved out of the way. I’ve chosen Saturday as the one day, so I’ll write a post on Saturday October 20, then every Saturday after that. I hope you stick with me.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

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, novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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.

Deep Listening

Woman Listening
Woman Listening

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” ~ Bryant H. McGill

“The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.” ~ James Cash Penney

“Efforts to develop critical thinking falter in practice because too many professors still lecture to passive audiences instead of challenging students to apply what they have learned to new questions.” ~ Derek Bok

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ~ Adrienne Rich

Every few semesters, I revamp the classes I’m teaching. I think it’s boring to teach the same thing over and over again. I’m in the process of revamping the acting class materials for this fall and I decided to incorporate more exercises in listening. It’s a great skill for acting and for life in general. In fact, my first instructor in good listening skills was my father. That skill has served me well both in my work in the theatre, but also in teaching, and in life.

To me listening is much more than just hearing the words someone is using to express their ideas. Deep listening involves matching what the person is saying with their body language, facial expressions, and the emotion behind their words. In a way, listening involves our entire body. Empathy is part of it but trying to decipher all the physical, emotional and cognitive messages is part of it as well. It’s such an important skill I wish we were using it more.

It’s sad to say, but in a way we read the memes, or the one liners coined by the media and think we understand what someone is saying. We think we understand their point of view. But what my dad, and theatre have taught me is that there are many layers of meaning behind what someone says, and you can’t sum it up in a headline. When we do that, we belittle that person in our mind. It’s disrespectful. That’s why it’s important to listen to what people from a political, religious, or social group are saying, and to actually consider their point of view and why they feel the way they do. Which means critical thinking is a big part of listening. It takes a great deal of worthwhile effort to even remotely understand another person’s perspective. When we take the time to try to understand another person, even if we fail, it honors both them and us because we learn something.

Listening also helps us distinguish between propaganda and persuasion. When I taught American Lit at the high school level, I designed a unit on the difference between the two. Sometimes the lines between them get blurred. We all fall into those traps of believing the propaganda, thinking that we know the truth. The bad thing is, propaganda is subtle brain washing. That’s why listening and critical thinking skills are such important things to teach ourselves and our children. In my opinion, not knowing how seductive propaganda is might be part of why we’re in this weird situation this political season.

I won’t go into all of the propaganda techniques here, you can look them up for yourself, but advertisers, the media, and politicians use propaganda to get us to buy their product, believe what they are saying or vote for them. It takes a lot of diligence to sort through the red herrings, attempts to divide us, or buy into their false causes.

Images can also be propaganda. I showed lots of examples of posters which use images, mostly from WW II, to skew the audience’s thinking about the enemy. Now we have social media to spread images which divert our attention from the real issues at hand. And that brings me back to deep listening.

It’s important to watch people as they talk, and to try to understand exactly what they’re saying. What emotions do they express? Does their body language and do their facial expressions match their words? Are they really saying anything of consequence? If we practice deep listening in our work places, with our loved ones, in chance encounters, and to people in the media, we might learn something important about them and ourselves.

So, I’m making it my mission this semester to teach my acting students better listening skills, and I hope that they use them long after the class is over.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments and hope you share this post with your friends.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Let’s Talk, and Listen

“Whether clear or garbled, tumultuous or silent, deliberate or fatally inadvertent, communication is the ground of meeting… It is, in short, the essential human connection.” – Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson

“Talk and change the world.” – Slogan espoused by a group of U.S. Senators who happened to be female. (as reported in Communication Works tenth edition, by Teri Kwal Gamble and Michael Gamble.)

My husband’s six year old computer finally died. He gave it a hard workout with all the high powered graphics programs he uses and it served him well. But, that means he and I are now sharing my computer, which reminded me of when we first moved here. We had only one car. That meant we drove to work together every morning and home together every night. We did that for about six years until we moved out into the country, twenty miles or more from town. Then I took a job forty-five miles in one direction and Barry continued to drive twenty-one miles in the opposite direction. That made two cars necessary and everything changed.

Once we were driving in opposite directions, the nature of our communication deteriorated. We didn’t talk as much as we had before, because our schedules were so different. I had to leave very early in the morning and usually got home three hours before having to go to bed so I’d be fresh for the next day. Every weekend I was working on school projects and Barry had his activities. We barely saw each other and little by little got out of the habit of talking, except for vital communications.

The thing that was so wonderful about driving to work together was that we got an extra twenty minutes to an hour to be with each other every day. Barry and I enjoyed that extra time. If we’d been having a conversation at breakfast, we could finish it in the car. At the end of the day, we could decompress. We both missed that. There’s something cold about going out for dinner, or going to some event and having to interrupt your lovely conversation to drive home in separate cars.

Recently,when I began to teach an introductory communication course at the local community college, I realized that Barry and I had lost some of our communication skills.  As the students and I talked about the skills necessary for good communication, I realized that I needed to do as much work to improve my skills as my students did. It takes practice to have meaningful conversations with your spouse, or anyone for that matter. It’s so important to see body language, facial expressions and to truly listen to what another person is saying. It’s also important to be able to put your own feelings aside long enough to try to understand what the other person is saying.

When I look back over the years Barry and I’ve spent together, some of the moments I cherish most are when we’ve had a good talk, or worked together on a project and were communicating well. It’s been a challenge to get our communication mojo back. Fortunately we were lucky to have good teachers in how to communicate well. My dad was an exquisite listener and communicator. By observing how he listened, considered and then responded to people, I learned how to be fully present for someone else. Our home was a great learning lab. My dad taught me that listening is at the heart of good communication. Thinking about what you’re going to say before you’ve heard what the other person is saying is not communicating. Maybe that’s part of our problem at the moment. We don’t listen to each other. We don’t take time to try to understand each other. We don’t trust each other because we think that everyone else should see the world the way we do. But that’s impossible. A good communicator tries to understand how the person their talking to sees the world and then find common ground.

Maybe my communication students are right, we need to redevelop our face-to-face communication skills again. I’m in favor of that. Having good technology skills is important, but being able to understand and be understood by your family, friends and colleagues is so much more important.