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August 10, 2016

On Listening:

ON LISTENING

by jim richmond

Humorist and author David Sedaris, in his latest book, says he finds most short story topics in his own life.

“No one could be as bad, as crazy as I’ve been,” he told THE STRAND on BBC World Service Radio early one morning.

Sedaris said he wrote a,story about his mother dying.

"Then I wrote another one.

And then I wrote another one.

I realized I was writing too many stories about my mom dying. My readers were probably getting bored listening.”

Truth is, our family life, colleagues and our friends form the core of our experiences.

Many of my own blogs, short stories and newspaper columns over the past three decades are based on people, places and personal experiences.

And some of them are as indelible as joy and happiness, or death and dying.

Whether your Mom, or a friend, real listening, too, is an art and part, of loving or caring for someone.

And it’s not always easy.

Other priorities, distractions try to crowd in the mind and the day. .

RDS.jpgOne of the most vivid examples of such listeners was Dr. Robert Sparks, a distinguished physician, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nebraska system and dean of the Tulane University Medical School. (He grew up on a small farm near Newton, Iowa where he is buried this day.)

Dr. Sparks was, when I first knew him, a program director in health for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and later its president and chief operating officer.

No matter how busy, he had time to discuss your work and, in an informal way, your health problems if they were interfering with your professional performance.

I remember the total attention, the listening skills, he applied and gave to people in work discussions.

About ten years ago, I had the pleasure of spending several days with Bob, who had retired on the West Coast, but returned to Battle Creek for a speaking engagement.

In failing health, he wanted to, so we travelled by car throughout Battle Creek. He talked about his volunteer and career efforts with the Battle Creek Symphony, as chair of the Lakeview School Board, as a volunteer helping to revitalize the local health department, efforts to attract new family practice physicians to Battle Creek and, his role in development of what has emerged into the comprehensive Family and Community Health Center at Washington and Emmett Street.

Much of what he advocated, the positive changes he helped make happen in Battle Creek were never recognized publicly.

But he enjoyed retelling those stories and difficulties from the '80s. And I ended up admiring him even more, for his many questions about my own life, my children, changes in Battle Creek, and other topics during our two day car ride together

I kept in touch with Dr. Sparks regularly over his last decade, and we talked on the phone two times from his hospital room in the final week as death approached, he choking off a sob when he called the day before he died in his hermetically, germ free sealed off room in a northern California hospital.

We learn much from others, if we take time to truly listen and communicate.

Today, I still struggle to ask questions, listen to those I love or care about.

Almost without exception, my close friends and loved ones have the capacity to listen when I need an ear, a smile, a word of encouragement.

There are many people with no capacity to listen. They only know how to talk.

How boring that must be.

 

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