People with problems seem to make a beeline for me. It’s as if they sense that I’m a good listener. I feel overwhelmed by the people I meet in the community who want me to listen to their problems. I try to be polite, but I don’t want to listen. Not one of these individuals is trying to change. Some go to therapy or to classes at church and use those situations to talk about their problems without changing anything. How do I avoid being stuck listening to someone go on and on about their problems?
If you feel stuck while listening, you’re not listening. So when someone starts a conversation and you’re not feeling it, speak up: “I’m not available to listen right now. Do you have a therapist, life coach, or spiritual teacher to talk with?” If the answer is no, offer to introduce them to a free resource you trust (like this column, for instance). The first time you interrupt someone to define your boundary, it will be uncomfortable. You may feel as if you are being rude or mean. The person who has started to share their story of suffering may spiral into anger or hurt. It’s likely she or he has grown accustomed to giving a pain monologue and receiving sympathy in return. If you disrupt the pattern, you might be judged. If you don’t disrupt the pattern, you will be judged. By you.
Every time you listen with the expectation of being perceived as polite, you’re being disrespectful to yourself. It’s also a disservice to the person in pain. That’s right, the storytellers you meet don’t need to change. You do. Listen deeply to yourself, and then be honest with others about how you prefer to connect with them. Along the way, appreciate your generous heart. People are drawn to it, and that has served you well. The new lesson is that your heart also needs to be protected. You’ve listened to as many people as you can. Focus now on hearing yourself.
My son and his wife are happily married but they don’t want to have children. I am heartbroken. Don’t tell me to adopt. I want grandchildren. Grandchildren give meaning to life. How do I convince my son and his wife of the importance of having children?
The idea that grandchildren give life meaning is causing your broken heart. If you didn’t rely on something you don’t have to inspire meaning in your life, you would feel empowered to create a meaningful life. Clinging to the belief that the most important people are those who are born through our bodies, or through the bodies of our children, is like believing the world is flat. It roots us in the past. Why not inspire a sense of purpose by contributing to the kind of future you hope will be? Try a new reality: Every child is a (grand)child. Make it your mantra, a spiritual GPS to guide you toward choices that prove your capacity to love is unlimited. Your son and daughter-in-law will be relieved and the children you care for will help you embrace a new vision of family.