Professor, author, counselor and theologian David Augsburger wrote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” I saw that come true when my dad visited me at a business luncheon on a sunny day last October.
My dad is a natural storyteller. Personable, engaging, and a bit raucous, he has drawn people into his tales for as long as I can remember.
When I was growing up, my dad never met a stranger. Whether at a store, a sporting event, or while we were supposed to be making a quick stop to buy gas, he took every opportunity to connect, engage those around them, and undoubtedly share tales of days in the Marine Corps, growing up on a farm in Kansas, or some epic adventure as a post-military retail store manager.
I’ve heard hundreds of his stories over the last four decades, possibly thousands. That’s why it surprised me when I saw the magic of what could happen when someone authentically, intentionally, empathetically listened to him.
It was at the Our Community Listens facilitator training week here in St. Louis last October. We had people in from around the country teaching and learning how to facilitate our Communication Skills Training class. We were all arriving early and working late, with meetings each morning, trainings all day, and events each evening. Since my parents were in town from Texas that same week and because our whole team had been working from dawn to dusk, I invited my parents to join us for lunch one day simply so I could see them and, conversely, they could have the chance to meet the people who make up my new organization.
What happened was nothing short of awe-inspiring, and it frankly left me a little dumbfounded. There in his Marine Corps Veteran hat, my 73-year-young dad sat amongst my team at lunch and, true to form, began sharing stories. Larry Den Hartog, a retired Barry-Wehmiller engineer and CST facilitator, sat next to my dad and, as he talked about retail life, his daughter’s career path, and military service, Larry simply listened. With his eyes, with his body posture, with his gracious, patient, and interested facial expressions, Larry let my dad know he was being heard. Using nods, encouraging him along, Larry opened space and an invitation for my dad to share, and for the first time in my life I heard the story of Vietnam, a mass casualty at my dad’s base, unspeakable loss, and the unit-wide decisions that prevented my dad and many others from ever seeing front-line combat in the wake of this great trauma.
For years I’d heard dozens upon dozens of stories of good times, challenging hikes, shenanigans, and shared experiences, but this was the first time my dad ever opened the door and shared the deep stuff that is often left hidden. There, with a retired engineer, communing over baked fish and grilled veggies, my dad accepted the open invitation for authentic human connection through the gift of being heard.
This path we’re on, this mission of World Caring we get to share, is a powerful, beautiful gift. Learning to truly listen equips us as leaders, but first it connects us with and helps us love those closest to us in our world. It is at the point of being heard that relationships deepen and grow. Thank you, Larry, for listening to my dad on that sunny October day. Your gift blessed not only his soul but mine as well.
To learn more about this vision of World Caring and to join the movement, check us out online at www.ourcommunitylistens.org.