"Can I ask you a question?"
“Yes, I’d love a question,” I said.
“We’re educators,” bobby said, prefacing his interest in my project.
”We’re trying to create a cultural revolution of kindness on campus.”
“In a brief synopsis, how did you end up here, where you are right now?”
The open-endlessness of the question teased out the bigger story within me.
“It all started with an idea, really a question, “how can I be of service to the world as I am, without needing to become anything more. I figured this was an authentic service I could offer to the world,” I said, wanting to talk more, but deciding to stop there.
What I like about Free Listening is that I go in completely detached from peoples lives and leave that way. People ask, “does is make you sad to hear people’s problems?” Implied in the question is that 1) all people talk about is their problems and 2) that I’m effected by their problems, both of which are mostly untrue. Most people when they're put on the spot, can't actually think of anything that's wrong right there and then. Usually they realize that they're okay. And of course there are times when I want to do more and feel compelled to stay in someone’s life, and I have done so but I rarely exchange contact information with participants unless there is an unprompted request from them to do so.
The note I tape to the participant’s chair to draw people in sums up what I’m trying to say, “have a seat, talk about anything you want for however long.” See, there’s no expectation on my end of giving advice, coaching, or relating what they are saying to my experience, and there’s no expectation on their end of any form of judgement, analysis, or even a strong reaction being received. It’s simply a space to express whatever’s on their mind, free of concern of any of the usual baggage we bring into conversations.
With that intention, I find it easy to walk away and live my life not worried about people if they said something sad or elated for people if they said something good. I try to remain a calm, positive neutral to be an example of not attaching so much emotional ups and downs to their life’s experiences. In doing so, I find this frees them up to own their experience. I find that from this empowered state, people naturally see the bright side.
Since this is my blog and the intention here is to share, I do have one piece of advice that I’ve learned through listening as much as I have.
My advice: Don’t take what other people say personally. Take it as noise from the mouths of flawed beings working through their own shit and trying to be the best version of themselves. Treat someone who is projecting or triggered as you would your drunk friend. "It's okay, I know you didn't mean that, you're drunk, let's get you home." Truly they are under the influence of emotion. Listen deeper beyond words, find the unmet need someone is trying to communicate and figure out how to fullfill it. Doing this will turn an argument into an act of service.
Now it was Bobby’s colleague turn to talk. As she began to engage with me, she sat down in the chair. She was the first and only person to actually sit in the chair during today’s session. I’m always surprised at how few people sit, in comparison to how many walk by or hover around and talk while standing. I’d love more to sit, but I’m happy with the number that do.
I felt comfort in having her there. I could feel her warm, genuine caring nature as she told me about the “kindness club they’ve started at their college,” where there’s a “needs box” that anyone in the community can express an unfulfilled need, even as simple as “i need someone to talk to,” and the members of the club will do their best to satisfy the need.
Immediately I loved this idea, and instead of piping in upon my first impulse to say, “o.m.ggg I love it,” I sat with the enthusiasm, continued to listen, and waited for the right opportunity to express it. When her thought came to a natural conclusion and there was some silent space, I offered my admiration for the idea and how I though a service that aims to get unfilled needs met, is a beautiful offering to the community.
This was sort of a conversation in reverse, because only at the end did we exchange names and do small talk. They asked if there’s anywhere to eat around here. “In the park?” I said, “just that main restaurant over there, pointing off towards the Old Globe Theatre.
“Other than that, Hillcrest is the nearest hub where you can find almost any kind of food you can think of.” They were looking for something inexpensive, so we brainstormed and came up with a few ideas. Of course I told them about the vegan restaurant nearby to see if that sparked any interest. It didn’t but no one’s perfect, eh? ; )
It’s amazing, try a conversation in reverse next time you meet someone. Ask the important stuff first.
At this point in the night, as I’m considering the inner intention to pack up Free Listening soon, an unhappy tricyclist rides by for about the third time, interacting with me only through a unchanging frowny-face. As I sit, I am usually there long enough to witness the completion of whatever circuit people are on and I eventually get to see them again as they loop back around. Usually people’s reactions are different the second time around.
Really, I applaud the man for the effort in keeping his face a stone-cold-sour-grin while doing something as joyful-seeming as riding a giant, bright-red tricycle.
A runner who hadn’t noticed me the first time due to the fact that she was intensely conversing with her iPhone headphones, now saw me as she looped back, and as she did, noticeably slowed down, squinted at the sign and then smiled up at me. Within seconds she was gone.
When engaged in pure human connection, moments like this seem to drag out in a pleasing way to occupy bigger chunks of our consciousness than the amount of time would suggest. I hope to do this kind of work full-time, because I feel boundless, eternal, and whole, like within every moment holds the key to my life’s purpose.
Whoa!! I almost forgot,
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Ben and Cory!!
(as announced by the Segway tour guide after a successful marriage proposal)