What an underestimated art listening is.
Viktor Frankl, one of the great psychiatrists of twentieth century, survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. His little book, ‘Man’s search for Meaning’… he told the following story.
A woman phoned him in the middle of the night and calmly told him that she was about to take her own life. Frankl kept her on the telephone and talked her through her depression, giving her reason after reason to carry on living. Eventually she promised him she would not take her life, and she kept her word.
When they met later, Frankl asked her which of his reasons she had found convincing,
‘None’, she replied.
What then persuaded her to go on living? Her answer was simple. Frankl had been willing to listen to her in the middle of the night. A world in which someone was prepared to listen to another’s distress seemed to her one in which it was worthwhile to live.
Sometimes it is the greatest gift we can give to a troubled soul. It is an act of focused attention. It means being genuinely open to another person, prepared to enter their world, their perspective, their pain. It does not mean that we have a solution to their problem. There are some problems that cannot be solved. They can only be lived through, so that time itself heals the rupture or loss. When we listen, we share the burden so that its weight can be borne. There are times when friendship calls simply for a human presence, a listening ear and an understanding heart, so that soul can unburden itself to soul.