I often find myself filled with wonder at the thought of how many stories there are in the world. Sometimes in traffic, other times driving through a neighborhood, I wonder what’s the story of the person in that car? Where are they going? Why? Are they happy about it? What’s their life been like to this point? Or the people who live in that house, what is the novel of their life?
John Holmes said, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” As of April 2020, according to the most recent United Nations estimates, there are 7.8 billion people living on the planet. That’s 7.8 billion other stories! What an overwhelming thought!
As I write this there are demonstrations/riots going on in not less than 30 cities across the country. Those events were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died as a result of his treatment by a white police officer in Minneapolis. During the television coverage, reporters repeatedly ask demonstrators, “Why are you here, what’s your message to America?” The message of the sincere protesters is similar to the one after Rodney King in L.A., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and others. These things keeps happening, I suggest, at least in part because no one is really listening.
Listening with Your Hands and Feet
When someone says, “I just don’t feel heard,” they usually don’t mean they are uncertain their voice has caused the other person’s eardrums to record sound. They usually mean the person hasn’t done anything in response to what they’ve said. People say, “No one ever listens” at work, for example, because they believe no one follows up, nothing ever gets done. Are they right?
While serving as the interim director of an international school in China it was brought to my attention that our local Chinese staff felt they were not being treated fairly in their compensation. I met with the staff members and decided to do some research. I met with local government agencies, a local attorney, business leaders of Chinese companies in the city and other Chinese educators to find out what the compensation packages were like for their employees. I learned that our packages were competitive. With the exception of one adjustment regarding housing allowance for married couples where both worked at the school, we made no changes to the compensation.
When I met with the staff to discuss my findings they accepted the outcome. What was interesting to me was not that they accepted the outcome but they accepted it with gratitude. They expressed appreciation that I had listened to them. Though it wasn’t the outcome they may have hoped for, they felt respected because I had listened and taken the time to research their concern. The reason they knew I had listened was because I had taken action and followed up with them. I call that listening with your hands and feet.
“Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.” That’s how I describe what I call “Superpower Listening.” What would the world be like if we could all see it through the eyes of others?
It’s a similar idea to the Native American proverb:
“Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”
When I Googled that proverb to be sure I had the wording right, I ran across an unexpected source for a similar idea. If you’re a big Elvis fan it may not be as unexpected to you. But I didn’t remember an Elvis song called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Here’s a recording of that song with a brief intro by Elvis.
We can’t walk a mile in 7.8 billion pairs of shoes. But we can walk a mile in a few. In order to walk a mile in my shoes or see the world through my eyes, you need to know my story. SuperPower listening is engaging with someone well enough and long enough to learn their story. “Their story” is made up of episodes and one story is never the whole story. But, episodes build upon each other and reveal more and more of the person’s view of the world. It takes time and effort. It may also call upon you to take some action. Sadly, most people are not willing to put in the time and effort or are unwilling to be called upon for action to sincerely ask the question,
What’s your story?