Most of the time, being a good listener is a good thing. More often, people need to learn to listen more, not less. If you really listen, you will learn so much, not just about what is said, but about the person saying it. By listening you will enrich your own life, improve your relationships, avoid trouble, and benefit from the advice, experience, and viewpoint of others.
You will also honor the other person by showing that their thoughts, feelings, and viewpoint are worth your time and attention. This is vital in building a relationship.
But I’m talking here about unsolicited advice, of the negative kind: predictions of doom; naysayers telling you it can’t be done. In this case the viewpoint is not only unhelpful, it is in fact harmful, even if well-intentioned. This is where not listening becomes a useful skill.
We tend to believe what we hear often, whether it comes from outside, or whether it becomes part of what we tell ourselves over and over.
Read. Think. Walk. Write. Let’s also add watch. I like to learn things from films, the same way I do from books. In this case a short, seemingly cute animated film taught a valuable lesson. It was called, I think,“The Little Frogs.”
First we see a group of frogs running around, then two fall into a large, deep hole. (As an aside, I wanted to know what a group of frogs is called. I found out it is an army, sometimes also a chorus – which I like better – or possibly a colony).
The other frogs are a chorus (pun intended) of gloom and defeat. Rather than finding a way to help the frogs get out of the hole, they discourage them from even making the attempt. “You’ll never make it,” they say. “DON’T EVEN TRY.”
Then, as it starts to rain, they have the great idea to wait until the hole fills with water. Then the two stranded frogs can swim out. Okay, maybe. But not the most appealing option.
But this idea urges the chorus on even more to shout at the frogs not even to try. One frog, however, is determined. Completely ignoring their advice, he jumps toward the hole’s edge, over and over again.
The other frog asks why it is even trying. But the determined frog is focused, eyes beaming, with the goal firmly in sight. Suddenly it jumps with all its might … and makes it.
Everyone is thrilled, amazed, and perplexed.
They were wrong. It could be done. But why didn’t he listen?
Then he says in a little voice, “Thank you for encouraging me.”
They are even more bewildered. “Encouraging you …?!” Then they realize.
The frog that jumped is deaf.
All their fervent discouraging words seemed like cheering to him. To their credit, they take the lesson, and turn to the frog still in the hole. “You can do it,” they shout. They cheer him on until he gives it a try. Hope and strength renewed, he takes a literal leap of faith, and sails over the hole’s edge to safety.
There is a lesson here not just for the naysayers that could instead be supporters, but for those of us who are affected by their negativity.
Sometimes not being a good listener is a good thing. Sometimes it’s helpful, even necessary, to be a little deaf.
Recently I saw an essay topic that asked: what would you tell your younger self about your writing career?
I decided that, among quite a few other things, I would tell my young self to listen both more and less to my parents and others, even the teachers who gave me A pluses on my papers, who said I couldn’t make a living as a writer.
I’m not talking about naysayers in general, people who are negative and don’t really care about you. Just ignore them. But I mean those who really had my best interests at heart, but focused on avoiding risks, whatever the cost.
But under all my stubborn determination not to listen to them, a part of me did. It was the subconscious part of me, which tends to exert a stronger influence than our conscious thought. I didn’t take their advice and give up pursuing what I wanted to do, but I really heard the part about how it probably wouldn’t work. I would never be able to make even the barest living doing one of the only things I loved and was good at.
I should have listened, not to the negativity, but to the concern and caring behind the words. I should have listened about having a more practical backup system. Not the way it was stated: “Just get a job and write as a hobby.” Less than helpful. But the underlying idea –find a way to support yourself, with a less creative form of writing, or some compatible work, until you find a way for the writing to support itself – and you.
What I heard was, just give up. Just do something boring and ordinary that you hate, and forget about what you feel you were meant to do.
That’s the part I shouldn’t have listened to. And especially, that underlying idea that I couldn’t do it. Plenty of other people make their living with words. So why couldn’t I? I should have listened more to the practical concern, but less, much less, to the idea it was too hard, beyond my reach, not worth even trying.
So if people are telling you not to even try what you want, need, to do, get a little deaf. Don’t believe you can’t do it. Instead, get advice from people who have done it, and take practical steps to get there, and to meet your needs along the way.
As for those who mean well but think it can’t be done, remember that lots of things are hard. Lots of things were impossible, unheard of, until someone does them. For example, where might transportation be today if the Wright brothers had been easily discouraged?
Instead of focusing on why it might not work, if someone believes they can do it, or must do it, believe it too. Instead of saying it’s too hard, don’t even try, say, it may not be easy, but if you care enough, try hard enough, you can do it. Instead of yelling, “just give up,” cheer them on instead. And while you’re encouraging them in their efforts, go find a piece of strong rope, just in case they need a little help up.
What about you? When in your life do you wish you had listened? When do you wish you hadn’t? When would it have served you well to be deaf, to hear, not what was said, but what encouraging things could have been said instead, like the deaf frog, who knew he could do it, because they seemed to be cheering him on.