There is a great quote from Maya Angelou that does the rounds on Twitter every now and again:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”.
This quote always makes me think of the beautiful words that end Gerard Manly Hopkins’ Terrible* Sonnet No. 44: “This to hoard unheard, / Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.”
I am not sure what the context of Angelou’s words was. But I have always assumed that what she was talking about was the lonely agony that came from not having an opportunity to tell your story or expound your ideas at all. The words that start Hopkin’s Sonnet 44 are “To seem the stranger lies my lot…” and this, for me, calls to mind the consequences of “bearing an untold story inside you”.
Listening, really listening, …
… is a small act of mundane compassion we can enact for each other. And real sincere listening is quite rare. All too often we fall into the trap of letting someone’s words flow past us while we superficially skim and scan them looking for something upon which we can hang our next sound bite, all the while using half our brain to compose this while our lips are closed. People often just look for the next chance to jump into a pause in the conversation to grab a bit of airspace for themselves, or for the opportunity to score points or further an agenda. People can act, too, off assumptions they have about their dialogue partner before the conversation even begins; they carry with them into a discussion the determination to defend a point of view or undermine a position. The airwaves are anything but clear.
When I was a shy teenager I heard or read somewhere that the secret to charm was being able to listen. I forget the source of this advice but whoever composed it did me a real favour, as I was very dubious about my skills as a conversationalist. When I went to University I put this into practice and it worked. I quickly realised how hungry people were for someone who actually gave a damn about how they thought or felt.