Being a better friend often means we give our time and attention but we do not give our guidance. We are not advisors, we are a support group. We listen and let others come to their own natural conclusions. It means listening to someone’s shared dreams without giving directions as to how to get there. This is NOT easy! I am so good at answers and giving direction, I am not good at letting others lead or make their own mistakes.
I was reminded of this during a recent conversation with my neighbor. I offered solutions and strategies when I was only needed to lend a listening ear. Especially since the topic was the challenges of being a Black Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC) in the professional world. In this conversation I bring nothing to the table other than my ability to listen, learn, and support. Spoiler: I did not do that.
I wanted so badly to help that I offered any intervention I could provide. I suggested solutions when my friend was coming to me to be heard. Expressing a desire for me to understand not for me to fix her problem. I knew this and yet in the moment I promptly forgot.
And I apologized afterward after I had a moment to reflect on our conversation and consider what part I wished to play. I wanted to be of service and help but the value I brought to the conversation was deep and attentive listening to my friend. Not offering what I a white woman would do in her situation – she knows what a white lady would do, and she also knows that solution would not work for her.
I needed to take a step back to remember that my value does not come from offering solutions or fixes to societal problems. I was meant to listen, to learn, and to better understand what these challenges are like for my friends of color. I was not being asked to solve this problem but to more intimately familiarize myself with the experiences that women of color face in the work place.
Thinking about this conversation from the perspective of a BIPOC woman made me realize how patient and wonderful my friend was to share her story with me. It made me realize how challenging these conversations must be for BIPOC to have with people who are not of color. My attempts to “fix” or “solve,” created even more work for my friend as she had to hold her ground as I attempted to push her forward.
I am learning more about myself and vulnerability this year. I am learning that I like to cross things off of my list and make them better if at all possible. I am also learning that the “better,” I seek is not always attained through my mental or physical labor. Many times my goal is obtained through my patience, my willingness to listen and be still, my ability to let my BIPOC friends lead the conversation and let me know what they need – before I jump in to assist.
Obviously, this translates to every relationship, being attentive to ourselves and recognizing that oftentimes the best gift we can give to others is our silence. Digest the wisdom, take it all in, don’t even think about what you will say next. As the Dali Lama once said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” I plan to take advantage of this learning and listening much more going forward. I’m just grateful I have so many dear friends willing to walk this path beside me and share what they have learned on their own travels.
What are you re-learning or unlearning in order to be a better listener? Any tips you’d like to share on how to take a beat and be more present for each other?