Friday, September 02, 2011

In praise of non-judgmental listening

Two weekends ago, my grandson visited me for a long weekend – Friday through Sunday. My somewhat more relaxed schedule and new Washington apartment will make such opportunities to play an authentic “grandpop” role with my four grandchildren more frequent.

I wondered if my approach to engaging in extended conversations with a fifteen-year-old should be different than what had worked with eighteen, nineteen and twenty year-old dorm residents over the past decade. I found this was not the case. Our conversations were candid, lengthy and wide-ranging – great fun for me and hopefully for my grandson as well. The key, I believe, was non-judgmental listening.

Non-judgmental listening is, I believe, a most effective way of relating to teen-agers and university students, who are seeking authentic relationships with adults than are not freighted with authority, judgments (mostly negative judgments) and expectations. Think about it. Who are the adults with whom young people are mostly in relationship: parents, coaches, teachers, principals, deans, bosses; sometimes police officers. Virtually all of these relationships involve authority, judgments and expectations. When an individual is subordinate in an authority relationship, inauthenticity and attempts to manipulate the authority figure are almost inevitable.

Sadly, I fear that many other relationships, including those that are the most intimate ones (purportedly), between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and adult children are mostly barren of non-judgmental listening. Since non-judgmental listening is an important element of loving, caring, empathic, genuinely intimate relationships and such relationships are one of the most important elements of a life that is worth living, this is more than just sad; it is tragic.

Conversations with our grandchildren might be good place to begin practicing non-judgmental listening. As one becomes’ more skillful, it might be possible to extend the practice to other settings and relationships

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Dormgrandpop's Retrospective

Thursday, October 25th.

For some reason, I have had little inspiration to write in the past several days, though there has been much to reflect on and write about. With lengthy sojourns in Singapore impending, I it was clear that my 10 years as “in residence” dormgrandpop must come to an end. “Better to leave the stage while the audience was applauding” as my mother used to remind me. After only a brief search, with great good fortune, I found the perfect alternative to Anderson hall, a reasonably-priced 2 bedroom condominium within walking distance of American University. We completed the sale on 31 May and I began the process of packing and moving.

Moving is one of my least favorite activities, though perhaps the purgative experience it entails is character-enhancing. Packing up, after 10 years brought the packing-up experience, with assistance of siblings, of my father’s assisted living apartment after his death to mind. How does one accumulate so much “stuff” I asked myself. If one needs a reminder that material possessions, however beautiful, are as likely to be an impediment as a contributor to happiness, packing up is a good one. Among accululations is all that “stuff” that I couldn’t decide to throw away because it might be useful,..., sometime.

Of course student dormitory residents face this every year. The secure nook they sought to create in September, along with their room mate, must be reduced to its components and crammed into a car for the trip home - or stored. It is a good reminder of what inevitable later-life transitions will be like.

For most students, parents are on hand to assist with moving out just as they were on hand to assist with moving in. My parents, of course, were no longer on hand to assist - both had died (or transitioned to their next lives). But I had my daughter, who was kind enough to fly in from Florida. She played a key role in moving, two trips to Ikea for needed new furniture, furniture assembling, providing decorating ideas and picture hanging . She had played this role in several moves of her own and assisting friends. She was a congenial, non judgmental, colleague and helpmate. What a gift to have children whose company I can enjoy, who are helpmates and from whom I can learn.

By the end of Friday night, not a single one of my possessions remained in 101 Anderson Hall. Sitting in the overstuffed arm chair, from which I had listened to so many student voices, over teas and dinner, I could close my eyes and envision a changing tapestry of those scenes and friends. By now, those who were my first Anderson Hall friends were men and women of 29 or years or more and had, no doubt, experienced their share of life's tribulations and joys. I could also experience, in a very personal way, the Buddhist concepts of impermanence and emptiness. To the degree that Dormgrandpop’s 101 Anderson Hall sojourn constituted a “reality” it now existed only in my consciousness; also in the consciousnesses of others who had experienced it and remembered.

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