Monday, August 6, 2012

The Listener

They were already at their table when I was seated a short distance away. I barely took note of them until I heard the older one say "Well good on you!" Lover of words that I am, I perked up my ears and jotted down the expression, wondering what part of the country it came from. I turned back to my coffee and list-making but repeatedly found myself eavesdropping on their conversation.

I studied them covertly. It was a young man of about twenty and an older man probably nearing his middle-forties. They didn't appear to be father and son.  Their dress seemed similar. Both were clad in denim and tee-shirts. The older guy wore a baseball cap; the younger one wore glasses and an earnest expression. They clearly didn't know each other well but something drew them together.

The older guy asked a lot of questions:  "How's that pick-up running? Who's this guy you're gonna live with this fall? How old is your little brother now? Is he still in Houston? What are you planning to do when you finish all that studying?" Every answer the young man gave received an affirming response: "That was a good move! There you go, now your mind is starting to work like it needs to. I understand. Great!" Sometimes he asked a question, either to make sure he understood, or to get more information. The young man sat up straighter under all that positive attention. His answers got longer and were punctuated with quick smiles.

I listened through their whole breakfast. I learned, from listening to their exchange, that the young man's father had recently passed away and that the older guy was his dad's friend. When the young man heard that he was getting to be "more like his old man every day" his eyes shone with tears and he grinned with pride and delight.

I don't know who the father's friend was, or how they met, or what their relationship meant to him. I don't know how much time he had spent with his friend's son or who initiated breakfast. What I do know is that when that man took a younger man to breakfast and listened and encouraged and cared about him, he made a difference in the world.

What a remarkable person. He demonstrated every listening skill I have ever been taught: he nodded as he listened, repeated what he heard in his own words to check for meaning, affirmed the speaker, and asked follow up questions. He also used great encouragement tactics: he smiled, nodded, affirmed, talked about what mattered to the other person, remembered stuff from previous situations, and said repeatedly how much confidence he had in the young man. In a final act of generosity he picked up the check. Good on him!

This should not have been a remarkable conversation.  Sadly though, a lot of conversations between people of unequal ages consist of the older one talking and the younger one listening.  When that is the case, the younger one doesn't get to hear words of encouragement and the older one doesn't hear anything new.  It was refreshing to see someone use God-given talents of listening and encouragement with a person who clearly needed it. The young man soaked in the older man's approval and encouragement and at the end he stood taller, like grass after a rain.

Is there someone younger who you could listen to and affirm today?

P.S. According to Google, "Good on you: is Urban Slang; a congratulatory expression to let someone know they have excelled at something.

No comments: