I've been trying to become a better listener.
I read in a book recently that to listen to someone fully and attentively is to give the other person one of the most precious gifts in the world. Reading those words struck a chord. I thought yes. Oh yes.
My closest friends are all incredible listeners. When I have a problem, they focus. They hear me out; they take time to comprehend. They let me express my fears. And this time and kindness that they give to me is of untold value. I believe that without their friendship, I would find life wearying and difficult.
My children seem to talk to me an awful lot, as I suppose all children do. They tell me what they've read, they ask me how to spell words as they write, they ask obscure questions which stump me and secretly frustrate me. Sometimes the flow of endless chatter feels like a tidal wave of words, and I want to shout "STOP! Stop this infernal talking!" Yet at the same time I am delighted that I am still privy to their worries, their queries and their day-to-day stories. And I want to be someone to whom they can speak, knowing that I will give them my full attention whenever possible. I want them to say, when they are grown, that they always knew they could talk to their mum.
At work, I listen to people all day. I hear their problems, I ask questions and hear their answers to my probing. There is a lot of conversing involved. Because a lot of talking occurs, I sometimes kid myself that I'm a brilliant listener. I begin to believe that I am well on the way to winning the inaugural Australian GP Listening Trophy 2008. Then I catch myself wondering what I'll cook for dinner, or I hear myself butt into the patient's story with a premature question, or I ask something my patient has already told me. Occasionally I ask the same question three times. Oh yes sirree, there is plenty of room for improvement here.
I suspect I am even worse at home. After all, I have already, in my delusional mind, won the listening trophy at work, and by the time I've lugged that sucker home, I'm exhausted. Fatty tells me about his footy team's injuries and I make vague 'hmmmm' noises, as if that should suffice. Laura tells me her dream from the previous night blow by blow and I fight desperately to retain enough detail to sound like I was paying attention. Benjamin explains his drawing of underground worms to me at length, and I stare and exclaim at the wonderful squiggly creatures while my mind is figuring out when Laura's jazz ballet fees are due.
So lately I've been trying to pay more attention, and by doing this, to pay more respect - to the people I love, and to the patients who entrust me with their medical care. It's hard work, but I'm enjoying the challenge.
(No-one's awarded me any trophies yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time)