Paying to Listen

Paying to Listen

by Rebecca Buell | Feb 24, 2021

Once at a local coffee shop, I struck up a conversation with an older man from my neighborhood, asked him about his dogs, and how his weekend was going. What started as surface-level, neighborly conversation soon took a quick dive into him sharing his world—a pending divorce he didn’t want, a son struggling with health issues, business dealings and wondering how he could find meaning in the twilight of his career.

For a quick 45 minutes I listened to this man as he shared about his world. What struck me wasn’t that he opened up, because I know there is a basic human need for connection and being known. No, what struck me was how he ended the conversation. “It would be great if we could talk again. You’re a good listener. I have money; I could even pay you.”

With a background in professional counseling, I’m not foreign to being paid to listen attentively, but I was admittedly caught off guard because that is not my career anymore and this offer was outside an office-setting context. I told him I’m glad we’re neighbors and we should definitely have coffee again sometime. With that we each went on our way.

Listening, knowing and being known, is a universal need that does not know age, cultural barriers, or geographical boundaries. In Japan an organization called “Family Romance” is part of Japan’s rent-a-family industry that connects social need with actors willing to play the role of husband, wife, son, daughter, sister, brother, or friend for four-hour chunks of time.

Family Romance Founder, Yūichi Ishii, says the need for the organization stems from lack of communication. “These days parents are out working or they’re single parents so their kids are often lonely, eating alone or with a sibling and that’s the kind of environment Japanese society has created for the younger generation who are lacking communication.” As a result, people do not have a chance to connect authentically, openly, and end up renting fake relatives to be listeners as a cure for that isolation.

So, what does this CEO of 2,000-actor organization suggest? Moving away from app-based communication, picking up the phone or showing up in person, and connecting authentically with the people most important to you.

At the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities we refer to this as “Truly Human Connection.” If you’d like to find out more about our vision of a society where people care about each other first, or would like to join the listening revolution movement, check out one of our upcoming virtual trainings by clicking here. I am sure someone in your neighborhood, your workplace, and your world is longing to be heard…and it might be you.

Connecting alongside you,

Rebecca Buell