At best, my dreams are jumbled, my thoughts tangential, my discourse is well-intentioned. And those are only the words inside my head that I’m talking about. There is a whole other world of words out there too: the words of others you know and others you don’t. And what you do with them matters as much as the ones you sift through in your own head to voice moment by moment, day by day.
At work, I now get the chance to transcribe for our focus groups. I love the opportunity to truly listen. I relish the chance to listen to people who want to improve their lives and advise us on how we can support that process better. Whilst it’s a business environment, I too learn from these sessions because I caught myself out last week.
Last week, I was busy perfecting being a ghost, trying to slide into the background despite the clacking of my fingers on the keyboard. I patiently waited in every pause and nodded as I tried to retain all that was being said to capture it in black and white. I used no filter, I was listening as openly as I could. And I loved it, because it meant I saw the people giving feedback. I saw as the words fell onto the screen, I saw more than feedback, more than passing comments, I saw them. I saw shadow and light, confidence and fear, I saw weak spots and hope. And I typed. I typed as well as I could to do them justice.
There was a moment when there was a pause and my attention was pulled elsewhere. I had a quick problem to fix on email and, in doing so, I lost half an ear to the conversation that was happening in my real space, the room in which I was sitting, not where my mind was. And with half an ear I typed a sentence and then looked. And in a sentence, I had reduced a person to a character, a persona. I had tried to summarise what she said. I had put words in her mouth that were not hers and the only person who could accurately claim that my chosen words summarised what she had been trying to say was me. Half in the room, half listening, I heard what I thought she said, not exactly what she said. I lost the nuance and the individuality as I wrote her into my day instead of leaving her in her space and meeting her there.
Yep, I did it again. I listened to answer instead of to hear. And I had to type all the faster for the transgression. It reminded me that if you ask someone a question, if you tell them that their voice has value in your world, then you’d better be there when they answer. Not hanging out the washing, or checking your phone, not rehashing the day that has been or psyching up for the day ahead. You have to appreciate what they show you as the words gather voice, understand the significance to them not you and truly hear it. We are shown soul every day, sounds signifying hopes and fears, loves and laughs and we owe it to ourselves and them to be there for it. It isn’t for us to ascribe value to what someone else says. It’s for us to let someone be the scribe for their own life and us to read along with compassionate eyes, looking not to answer but to see them and know their beauty better.