Isn’t it so like us to automatically assume that our own experience mirrors what others think and feel in similar situations? How many times have we said to someone else, “I know exactly what you mean” or “I feel your pain,” when, in actuality we can never know what it’s like to be inside someone else’s brain or to share in the anguish of another’s suffering. We say these things to be empathetic. We say these things to build connection. We say these things in order to let them know that whatever they are going through that they don’t have to go through it alone. We mean well. But when we plow ahead with the certainty that because we’ve been in a similar situation that we know their experience, we run the risk of further isolating them by our efficiency in bolstering their spirits without taking the time to listen to their story.
Each person’s story is unique, and each one needs to tell it in his own way. When we hear with an ear that hones in on key words or phrases with which we are familiar, are we not really just trying to find our own story within the context of their tale? Are we not listening for how the words they say reflect upon our own lives more than receiving the gift of trust and respect that another gives us when he allows us to get a glimpse of what is behind his mask?
When is the last time we listened not to what someone else words meant to us but to what they meant to the one speaking them?