After Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls was published, I suddenly found myself talking to people all over the country who were dealing with cancer. Debbie and I had a radio show, did television and press interviews, volunteered at charity events gave keynote speeches on how to feel good and look better while fighting the big C.
Even now, five years since the book’s release, I regularly speak with patients, caregivers and survivors, sharing stories, advice and wisdom from the experts in our book and others I’ve met on this journey.
But where I used to think my job was to fill the space around me with words of empathy and inspiration, I’ve come to realize that one of the best ways to help people in crisis is to simply be quiet and listen. Give them the room to express what they’re thinking and feeling and experiencing. Guide the conversation, not lead it, and allow those on the front lines of cancer to share their stories and celebrate whatever insights and victories they can claim.
I find that in doing this, the workshops and support sessions I attend generate such grace and positive energy, and that in turn has helped me to be a better listener across the entire spectrum of my life.
I used to head into events with our expert’s advice ready for dispensing. Now I just mention a topic, maybe hair loss, and let the conversation flow, adding bits of information wherever it’s relevant, but mostly letting everyone else talk about their experiences. And what I find is that as a group, we laugh more, share more and learn more.
It’s the same experience if I’m doing a consulting job, or dealing with a contractor, or trying to reason with my tween-age son. Telling any of them something is not nearly as interesting to them as having me listening to their thoughts, and then weighing in on the basis of what they’re saying. Once they feel like their being heard, that their needs and views have been acknowledged, they’re much more likely to give me the same opportunity to express myself. The net gain is we each learn how to better communicate.
Years ago Paul Simon wrote about “… people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening…”
Ten years after cancer came into my life, I have come to realize it’s better to listen before speaking, and hearing about what matters to those with whom I’m engaged before I begin to speak; and that it’s in the silence that the space for understanding comes into being, and wisdom begins to grow.