Reality Check: The Compassion of Listening

If you have an active imagination, you may have a conversation going on in your head right now while you’re reading this.
Perhaps you are arguing with yourself over whether you should have said that thing you said to your friend the other day. Maybe you are worrying about some future possibility that may or may not happen.
Is there a problem that you can’t seem to solve? You keep running it around in your head, imagining different scenarios. “If I do this, then this could happen. But if I do the other thing, then that could happen.” And so on.
Or, you might just be thinking about what you’ll have for dinner.
Some of those thoughts running around in our heads aren’t very beneficial, are they? It’s not very helpful to spend a lot of mental energy ruminating and resenting the past, or fretting and anxietying about unlikely horrors that could happen in the future.
On the other hand, those internal conversations can serve a very useful purpose. When we work things out in our heads, we can explore possible consequences without necessarily having to experience them in reality. This is a wonderful thing.
For example, let’s say I need to deal with a problem of someone’s behaviour. I might think to myself, “I’ll tell her that this time she went too far and she’s not welcome here anymore.” Imagination kicks in. What will she probably say to me then? What will I say? And so on.
Pretty soon I’ve imagined a “movie” of what could happen if I approach the situation this way. Seeing the potential result, I may choose to conduct the conversation differently.
Our imaginations aren’t necessarily correct at predicting what will happen, of course. The other person is free to respond as she chooses. She may not react the way I anticipated.
There are lots of variables that we can’t control. Even so, those conversations in our heads are still useful—they help us rehearse for what may lie ahead and that input could help us make our choices.
It’s really useful to recognize that different people have different skills. Everyone does not have the gift (or the curse, depending on how you perceive it) of such an imagination. Not everyone seems able to work out their problems within their own heads.
So what can they do? They can talk.
If you’re like me, when someone tells you a problem, you may have the urge to jump in with a suggestion. (You may have detected that tendency of mine in some of these columns!) After all, why would they tell you their problems if they weren’t looking for a solution?
You probably also know that for some situations, there is no solution. Or at least, there’s no solution that we can come up with.
You may have offered solutions in the past, only to have them ignored. Then you find yourself frustrated. “Why spend your time telling me this when you’ve shown that you are not going to act on any suggestions?”
If you find it frustrating to listen to what may seem like ongoing complaints, then here’s another way of looking that might help us listen with more compassion.
For some people, the process of talking through a problem may serve the same purpose as imagination serves for others. Talking is a way of figuring out possibilities and consequences without actually taking the action.
Some people may need to put their imagination into words to understand it themselves. Perhaps no solution is required from us. Perhaps no solution is possible. Perhaps the simple act of listening with compassion is the most effective thing that we can do.
Do you listen with compassion? Do you find it easy or difficult?

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