I used to think the primary goal for my life was to be heard. To find people and places who would listen to me. Not an ignoble pursuit, within reason. All of us have something valuable to say, something to contribute to the world. And I think it is a healthy pursuit to try to find ways and means to be heard.
But if you are anything like me, what is so often lost in the shuffle is the fight to hear others. After all, if what I just said is true (we all have something valuable to say), listening to others is at least as important as making sure they are listening to you.
Looking for Mirrors
My wife and I are pretty different. Strikingly so. And we often joke about how strange (and awesome) it is that we ended up together. Before Kylie, I was looking for someone who was a lot like me. Someone who thought and felt and expressed themselves like I do. It felt safe. A place I could be heard, understood.
I didn’t realize this until Kylie and I married, but I spent the majority of my life looking for mirrors. Searching the vast amounts of humans for a way to see myself. I didn’t care so much about genuinely seeing them as I did about gaining affirmation through the mirrors they held. I often did this (I often do this) at the expense of seeing the other person truly. And if I don’t see a mirror, or see a distorted one, I get angry, annoyed, and dismissive of that person (which, obviously, is much more about me than them).
It wasn’t until I traveled the world (and met Kylie) that I started to realize how desperately I needed to hear others. Not just that I needed it in an eat-your-vegetables-because-you-should sort of way. I wanted to. I desperately wanted to.
There are several reasons why listening to others is so beneficial.
The first is that it helps invite us beyond ourselves. What I mean is, it helps us to see truths bigger than our own experience and understanding. It ushers us toward transcendence.
This was the great gift of traveling (and being married to Kylie). It exposed me to things beyond my previous capacity. After all, a world of mirrors is actually pretty small. It just looks like one man. But adjust the mirror’s angle so you can see others, and a world of diverse beauty opens itself.
The irony is that listening to others also informs my own voice. Allowing myself to be influenced by the voice of others hones my perspective. And so when I fight to be heard, I am speaking with more wisdom, insight, and truth. Their voice changes mine.
It is a strange truth that we find greater depths within ourselves by exposing ourselves to things external. We do see a mirror in the people we meet. But it is not the one we are looking for. It awakens something otherwise dormant within us.
I am still fighting to be heard. I can sense it when I realize I am in a group and talking too much or too fast. But I am also learning to fight to hear others, to slow down my agenda and open myself to others’. In doing so, I enter a more meaningful, communal existence. But also refine the private character of my own soul.