In the Outsider Interviews, it was brought up that many people, in particular, Christians, are not willing to listen to people’s lives.
Britney Salazar, a guest speaker at the interviews, mentioned that some people were never willing to sit and listen to her whole story. They did not listen to her life, which explains and leads up to her religious decisions today.
Now sometimes, people are not given the opportunity to share their life stories, or if they are, fear of judgment or embarrassment prevents them from doing so.
A commercial a few years back had a man who did exactly that. He sat on a nondescript couch in the center of a busy walkway. There was another, equally nondescript couch next to him, along with a box of tissues on a coffee table in front of him.
This man would invite strangers, one at a time, to sit for potentially hours and tell him their life stories. No advice. No judgment. People told him things they had never told anyone in their lives and this man simply listened and occasionally offered them tissues.
What if we gave others this opportunity? Not for counseling, but for someone to simply listen.
Listening to people’s lives is fascinating, but it is not as if you are counseling them. You don’t give advice. You don’t point out where the person could have done things differently or better. You don’t ask how the person could have done such a thing or why something happened to him or her. You just sit there and listen to whatever the person is willing to tell you.
Many times, even among Christians, people are not given the opportunity or, if they are, the fear of judgment and/or embarrassment prevents them.
“There’s a great need for the Church to learn listening skills. One time last year while I was sitting at lunch in the Caf a member of the Vanguard community tried to convert me to the Assemblies of God denomination and I realized how arrogant [Christians] sound when we evangelize,” senior Theresa White said.
Depending on the circumstances and/or how long I have known them, I ask people to tell me their life stories. The whole thing. From birth till the present. Sometimes they ask me mine. If I am in a group setting I give a more surface-level version of my life story, such as where I’ve lived. But if it is one person, I will usually tell them pretty much the whole thing.
What if we gave people that opportunity? Depending on how long I have known the person or how well I know them, I sometimes sit people down, one by one, and ask them to tell me their stories. A few are surprised, but everyone I asked so far told me their stories for at least an hour. Some told me they never have gotten the chance before. Some said they told me things they swore never to tell anyone. But all people had fascinating stories, each with degrees of horrific sadness and overwhelming joy.
Each story had a wide span of faith and doubt, with all the paradoxes and contradictions that make up a person’s life. People’s families, dreams, secrets, fears, childhoods, personalities—people have told me all of them.
Of course, telling someone everything takes a fair amount of trust, but some people just need to know that you are giving them the opportunity to share and that can be enough. Sometimes, people do not tell you things because you just never asked.
I encourage you—sit somebody down one day and just ask them to tell you whatever they are willing.
Listen to people’s lives.