Listening and Helping

Have you ever tried to “straighten someone out.”

That is a cliché that basically means change their mind. You are trying to make them think like you. You are the one who has the answers and you don’t understand why they don’t see the world like you see the world.

I have been married to the same woman for many years. For many years I have gone through many stages in my relationship with her; I have made my share of mistakes.   I have always said that when I make a communication error, it stings me a bit worse since I am supposed to be a “communication expert”.  But I am human.  I goof up too.  I admit; I went through a stage when I thought it was my job to “straighten out” my wife.

Pastor Adam Hamilton writes in Chapter 6 “Shhh! Just Listen” of his encounter with a new age follower.  He writes about his temptation to “straighten out” this man.  But he didn’t.  He let him talk.

What is so important about that?

It is a wonderful technique for showing that you care for others.

First of all, what is inherent in the idea that you can and should “straighten someone out”? The basic glaring problem is your attitude.  You know what is right and someone else does not.  You have been made “King” and you should rule.  The person you are communicating with has no reasonable view that should be considered.  Your position is the one that must be adopted.

Maybe I have exaggerated but there is not much about this attitude that is humble.

Secondly, the person who is being changed is expected to become like you. I often ask myself about the benefactor in all of this change.  Does it make you feel better to have another follower going down your path?  Do you feel stronger because someone else thinks your solution is best?  That may be, but is the goal of your communication to have someone to stroke your ego or should you really just be trying to help someone else?  Maybe they are having a problem and they really need help to find a solution.

Thirdly, let’s go back to my marital mistakes. I admit that I went through a period in my life when I thought my role as a married man was to fix all my wife’s problems.  I thought that is what men were supposed to do.

What is inherent in this thinking?

Sadly, what lies behind this thought is that my very intelligent wife is incapable of coming up with her own ideas to solve her problems. For many years, I kept thinking I was doing her a favor by posing possible fixes for her troubles.  I expected her to do what I said and I was so confused when she balked and went another direction and then it finally hit me.

This person knows what works best for her.

And I don’t.

Let’s go further. What did she want from me?  She did not want solutions.  She wanted a non-judgmental listener, a quiet listener.  She needed to talk.  In the process of talking she could get her feelings out and she could come up with answers for her questions that would fit her life.

You see, like Pastor Hamilton when he was tempted to “straighten out” the new age follower, I was tempted to provide answers that would never fix my wife because her life is not like my life, her concerns are different from my concerns and her life view is not my life view. She is a distinct human being who is fully capable of figuring out her own path in life.  Pastor Hamilton says it well in these words about listening to his own wife: “the value of the conversation isn’t in my thinking of a solution to her dilemma; it is in allowing her to talk about it aloud.”

Of his new age follower, “had I acted upon my need to correct him, debate him, and set him straight in our first encounter, I don’t think he would have come to this place in his faith. The key to his growth in faith was allowing him to consider alternatives while gently offering additional perspectives for him to think about, and to simply listen without immediately trying to correct.”

Years later this man become a tremendous leader in Pastor Hamilton’s church.

Years later, I am still in love with my wife; the miracle, she is still in love with me. She still has her share of problems but she does not have a bumbling “white knight” who is trying to rescue her.

She is fully capable. Thank you very much.  Thank you very much indeed.


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