The Art of Listening: a Conversation with an Elder

Have you ever noticed how an Elder pays full attention to what another person is saying? They seem captivated by what the person is saying. They may not even make eye contact, except to perhaps give a look of query; almost as if to say; ‘tell me more’ or ‘what do you mean by that.’ If they do make eye contact, they demonstrate non-judgmental neutrality. They are conveying an expression of caring ‘on purpose’. As we speak, they may provide verbal encouragement; with the occasional, ‘uh huh’ with a nod, or upon expressing surprise, a ‘oh’, is often followed by a series of enthusiastic nods. Upon understanding, they shake their head in wonder, often with a look of enlightenment, as if what we just said solved a world problem. As we finish speaking, they pause and after giving careful consideration to what we’ve shared; they will often reflect what we said back to us, so that they ensure what we said has been clearly understood. They may ask a question or two for clarification or summarize their understanding of what we shared. They have not interrupted us, nor waited for us to take a breath, so that they could jump in to offer an opinion; instead they have given us their undivided attention and focused on what we were saying. 

Through graceful communication, the Elder provide one of life’s greatest lessons, the art of listening. When they do speak, often they ask questions in a humble manner; something like, ‘tell me, what are your thoughts on how you are going handle this?’ Within their important questions they are teaching us self-reliance and self-respect. Upon departing from the Elder who possesses the art of listening, the feeling of being validated and heard; resonates deeply within our heart. We also leave with an important gift; that we too can share with the next person who trusts us with their thoughts and feelings. As the gift of listening is passed from person to person, the capacity to honor one another’s spirits expands thus, compassion blossoms. 

All my Relations,
Emily, (ejh)
Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw

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