I don't mean necessarily with my ears -- although that certainly plays into it. Listening to different opinions (and then forming my own -- and sharing them if I feel so inclined). Listening to those who need to talk -- whether it is to share a trouble or because that's just what they do and maybe they need my ears because others have given up on them.
Listening to the wonderful sounds of the world -- the birdsong, Lizzie's purr, the troubling clink in the car, waves lapping against the shore, the rustle of fall leaves and the rumble of thunder as a distant storm nears the lake. My footsteps as they walk on snow. The sound of my breath as I struggle on a bad breathing day. Recognizing which are purely joy and observations and which are warning signs.
Do you remember the early evening of 9/11? If you lived near an airport and listened -- all you heard was silence. (Sounds like a song Simon and Garfunkel might sing.)
Listening to my body. The coughing, the breathing are pretty obvious. One can't help but hear them (including my bed buddy who has lost more than a few nights of sleep because of my night cough). But also listening to the silent parts of the body -- the troubling knee, a tight IT band, a troublesome foot. Listening and then taking some action.
Listening to my heart. Is it full? Is it broken? And listening to my soul. What is it telling me to do? What is the right thing to do at this very moment? Will it still be right tomorrow?
Listening to what isn't said. How many times do we hear someone say "I'm fine!" Or, "I've been better." And we may or may not follow up. And who knows? The unsaid may be a plea for understanding, for a kind action, a moment of gentle support or encouragement. I know I've done it back when I was working, even when I wasn't aware of doing so. "I'm fine." "It's OK." Only it wasn't. And it was more than one good friend who listened to what I didn't say and said "It's not worth it."
Listening with intent. What can I do with what I hear? Can I help ease an aching heart? Is Lizzie's bowl empty? Do I need to share what I hear and what I feel? How much is too much? How much is not enough?
I never imagined when I chose that word that so early in the year I would first listen, then not like what I heard, and finally do everything I could to affect change and to make my opinion known. I never imagined that posts I wrote on Facebook would be shared over and over, often by people I didn't even know; that people would send me email messages thanking me for speaking out when others felt unable or unsafe; that by sharing what I heard could influence others or at least inform them. By listening I could provide accurate information and OK, if it's spiced up a bit with obvious opinion, it didn't change the information, just reinforced the passion.
I am an only child. Well, was. I suppose childhood passed by decades ago. But as an only child I never learned certain skills that kids with siblings often pick up in the home. I never learned to compete until I was in theatre. I never learned to fight, for the most part, ever. I am totally non-confrontationaI (and this can sometimes really annoy people who are!) I don't get into politics and I don't argue religion.
I listen, I nod, and I go off and live my life. Do not ask me to fight.
I tend not to sweat the small stuff. I don't get really mad, really angry. A little, sure. Pissed off might be a better term. But I am a cheerleader, not a rabble rouser.
But I learned a long time ago to assess what I can change and can't and to recognize the difference. Some things don't matter, some things you put up with because you have to simply to get by (my last two years at my job before retiring, to name one) and some things matter so much you have to act.
By listening to myself, to my gut, to knowing when to speak (if not always when to stop!), I have learned a lot about myself in the past weeks, not the least of which is understanding that for the most part that those basic character traits are my dominant ones.
But don't attack something I hold dear. Don't ignore or insult people I regard with deep respect for their talents, their work ethic, for all that they are. Or I will go to the mat and I'll bring anyone I can with me. Maybe I've been hanging out with Rick Oberle too long (and after 20 years, that's not going to change!) but I have finally learned how to fight. If, and only if, it matters enough.
That's how I felt about the FCC spectrum auction and our TV station. That was speaking out positively, sharing information and making sure people knew about this so they could take a stand. It worked. The station was saved. (The decision-maker -- our university president -- said that the people's comments didn't make any difference and called those who were vocal "complainers," but between the media attention and the volume of letters and social media posts, she'd be ill advised not to pay attention.) BIG YAY!
It wasn't all good that came from this, though on the surface the victory was won. But like most victories, there are bruised bodies left in its wake. Words can hurt more than actions and our U president chose hers badly, insulting and demoralizing a group of remarkable professionals directly and less obviously but still verbally, our community at large. As I told one person, doing so is an insidious form of bullying and she should be ashamed.
Or, as one individual wrote on social media: "You are 100% correct that it hurt the staff at WKAR to be called "adrift, without focus" in the press conference yesterday."
Whatever one in charge feels privately -- be it board president, office supervisor or teacher -- is one thing. Decisions made in private or in the board room belong to that person in thoughtful, candid discussions. There is a big difference between discipline for poor behavior and public dressing down. There are a multitude of political elements up in the air and leaders juggle lots of things. No one will say that one in control always has an easy job.
But words hurt and we're not all seasoned political candidates who take blatant insults, many of which are false, with the same "water off a duck's back philosophy" that we've seen in recent news footage. When my colleagues and community are more or less slammed, when a public broadcasting station is snidely degraded for wanting to serve the mid-Michigan community by serving them the PBS schedule, despite the fact that the people have spoken, it becomes my fight, too.
We all, at one time or another, have the opportunity to voice things that others can't, simply because it isn't in their best interest. When we have the opportunity, it is an obligation to do so. And then at some point, you pull back and let them take the charge and carry on.
It's time for me to go back to listening mode and believe me, I'm not looking for a cause. (Although lead in the water of the city of Flint, MI and our governor's role in all this is mighty tempting! But Rachel Maddow and Cher have done a far better job reaching out than I could ever do!) This one exhausted me. But our TV station will stay. My friends have jobs. And I'd write a recommendation for any single one of them if they had been forced out. But not, I think, for a woman whom a very clever friend called "The Dowager Countess without the warmth and wit."
Meanwhile, as our "esteemed" university president calls it, "DownTOWN Abbey" is in full force and I think for a bit that's where my public tv zone will be. (Really? Is she deliberately trying to insult public broadcasting viewers or is she just so out of touch and uninformed she doesn't know the title of a show that is an international hit -- and why on earth don't her "people" correct her? Say it once, it's a mistake. Say it twice and it sends a message -- "I do not care about you and your silly show.")
I will listen to posh tones of Lady Mary and Edith, the tears of Anna (will they turn to joy?), the determined stance of Mrs. Hughes to have the wedding she wants, the cleverly barbed interchanges between the Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley and all my other favorites. I'll follow the discussion in Arti's Ripple Effects and dig into the books I have stacked up for 2016! Oh yes, there's that art journal calling me, too! Maybe it's time to listen to a good tutorial or two as well!
But I'll be listening.