On Learning to Listen and Asking for Help

view of two persons hands

Many years ago, during a preview of an exhibition by the late great artist from the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, Meyer Filho, I was contemplating his marvellous and colourful paintings of roosters, when a fellow guest at the exhibit approached me.

We began to talk about the most varied range of topics, including arts, politics, the weather, and my professional specialty, which is re-educating habits via the DeRose Method.

At some point during our animated discussion, my conversation partner began to tell me about a painful experience he was going through at the time. After listening to him for a few minutes, already anxious to offer my help, I interrupted him, suggesting a solution to his dilemma.

He touched my arm as a way of subtly interrupting my sermon:

– Excuse me, Joris, but I don’t want you to solve my problem. I just want you to listen.

Surprised by my new friend’s request, I nonetheless stopped talking and listened, without interrupting him, for a good while longer.

This experience taught me two important things, which stay with me to this day:

The first is that, sometimes, when someone chooses to share something with us, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are looking for a solution; often they just want to be heard.

The second thing I learned is that we all need friends, confidants, people we trust with whom we can share our doubts, desires and the decisions that form part of our lives.

Observing myself and my fellow humans, I’ve noticed we tend to believe that it’s up to us and us alone to solve all our challenges ourselves, like heroes, able to withstand all impasses, setbacks and obstacles that come our way.

– Have you ever seen an outing for widowers?

No, because the majority die early, keeping to themselves the afflictions and worries inherent to our existence, while their late wives, who previously shared their worries and doubts, made their lives lighter, this being one of the reasons for which married men live longer.

But whether we’re men or women, what’s important is that we all have at least a few people around us with whom we can talk about the vicissitudes that are intrinsic to the passage of time, instead of trying to be a hero or heroine; something that will eat away at our quality of life and even our life itself!

Personally, I have surrounded myself with four people to whom I recurrently report my feelings, be they ones of joy or of doubt.

The first of these is my life companion, Andressa Mezzomo, with whom I share a relationship of much complicity and trust. It seems obvious that my life partner would feature here, but there are dozens of couples who don’t share such feelings with one another.

The second person is my supervisor, Professor DeRose, who has been a friend for over 40 years, and, as well as his extensive existential jurisprudence, is truly wise. We talk weekly via telephone, and always share a good laugh and sometimes, dissect a challenge together.

A third person to whom I report recurrently is my beloved therapist Karin Bacha, in conversations that are always rich in insights.

And finally, a long-time friend, teacher and extraordinarily talented chef, Juarez Andersen.

As you can see, I’m surrounded by excellent people.

But attention passengers: this is a two-way street. I’m also a good listener to these people.

We have to be careful not to become vampires, sucking the blood from our confidants. What’s wonderful about this arrangement is that it will remain a rich, mutually beneficial and supportive bond.

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