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This post has been kicking around since early June. On June 11, I saw a tweet (or maybe it was a retweet – I don’t remember) recommending people watch a TED video about someone who had survived a suicide attempt 8 years ago that day. Compelled to click on the link, I was amazed the video was done by someone I went to high school with in Hays, KS.

Listening in Your Past

Dave Schramm was a year behind me and editor of the school newspaper when I was writing and drawing editorial cartoons. I haven’t spoken to Dave in years, but all the news about him in recent years was of his career at Stanford and his success as a communications educator.

I never had a clue about the challenges Dave (now known as JD) faced.

In the video, JD references a high school English teacher who had committed suicide. I’ve written several times about our teacher, Dave Wessling, who was such a tremendous personal influence.

Right after Dave Wessling’s death, I spoke about our high school years at an alumni reunion dinner, tying the whole talk to lessons Dave had taught us. The closing story was how, during my senior year, Dave had asked me to lecture to his junior lit class about Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant’s poetic reflection on death. It was only at the reunion dinner, after Dave’s death, that I was finally ready to reflect on death and satisfy his request. While the news about Dave’s death was probably intentionally sketchy, I could never personally reconcile how someone who had been such a life force in high school could ever feel anything different.

Listening in Your Present

Flash forward to Saturday night, and two conversations going on – one on Twitter, the other on Facebook. On Twitter, I was DMing with a friend facing incredibly difficult medical decisions with a spouse on whether to go through further treatment for cancer. On Facebook, it was with a friend who went through a horrendous divorce, an extended period of unemployment, and only in the past year secured a new job which ended unexpectedly Friday. That plus the individual my friend started dating late in 2010 turned out to be serially unfaithful.

Wow.

Saturday afternoon, I read a story in our diocesan newspaper by Fr. Mark Goldasich about the importance of “listening” with more than your ears. He talked about listening with your eyes, making it a practice to notice when something is wrong with others even when they don’t say something and giving them your full attention.

It’s great advice. And easier said than done.

Listening in Your Future

To the extent you can’t accomplish listening with multiple senses, you need to conquer a separate and equally difficult skill that’s all about compassion. As one of my friends put it Saturday night, “I always say go easy on people because you don’t know what private hell they are living in.”

Make sure you’re listening with your ears, your eyes, and as tough as it might be to do in the social media world, with your keyboard. You don’t know who you know who is living with potentially life-crushing challenges you’d never imagine if you aren’t really listening.  – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us atbrainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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14 Responses to “You Never Know Someone’s Private Hell Unless You’re Listening”

  1. Cuddlemecat Ccat says:

    very interesting

  2. DebDobson says:

    Mike, what a fantastic post.  I’ve developed some incredible friendships with people I have met through twitter.  They helped me through a layoff, a move to a town where I knew noone and kept me company so I wasn’t lonely.  I’ve been through one’s divorce, another’s battle with cancer, family deaths, etc…life’s battles.  Because we were listening to each other through words written through a keyboard, we’ve known when something was going on with the other before someone even said what was wrong.  You’ve beautifully written what is so very true and we each need to remind ourselves to do.  Thanks Mike.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you so much, Deb. I can truly attest to how much time you spend interacting and cheering people on through social media. It’s very inspiring!

  3. Cheri Allbritton says:

    I’ve thought a lot about it Mike and the belief that one is never given more than one can handle has been played out so many times this past year in my family’s life. It has to be true because we dig deeper and keep finding the strength to move forward. Funny Tom has never met any of my social media friends but he knows who you all are. He knows who prays for him. He knows who I find solace in talking to. He knows everyone who has offered to do something for us for no reason other than out of their profound kindness. He finds comfort in that because instead of worrying about himself, he always seems to be worried about me because I’m not the type of person who asks for help often. So everyday when I give thanks in my daily prayers for all of the bounty I have received in my life, I pray not only for Tom and my family, but also for all of my friends…even some I have only met through the keyboard. I appreciate the post and I hope others do as well.

    • Anonymous says:

      So everybody that reads this post, please do me a favor. Join with me in praying for a miracle for the Allbrittons. Nuff said.

  4. Chuck Dymer says:

    Mike,
    an important, thoughtful and profound post. Thank you for your reflection and insight.
    Chuck

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. One clarification I wanted to make is that I’m not claiming here that I do these things well. Some posts are written as reminders and admonitions to myself, and this is definitely one of them. I’m not a good person to read between and lines and pick up on clues when people are having problems. I’m a decent listener once I know something’s going on, but figuring out something is wrong is not a strong suit for me. It’s an area I need to work on more than anybody.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. One clarification I wanted to make is that I’m not claiming here that I do these things well. Some posts are written as reminders and admonitions to myself, and this is definitely one of them. I’m not a good person to read between and lines and pick up on clues when people are having problems. I’m a decent listener once I know something’s going on, but figuring out something is wrong is not a strong suit for me. It’s an area I need to work on more than anybody.

  7. jan harness says:

    What a wonderful post.

  8. Jim Joseph says:

    This is ringing so true to me, Mike.  Listening is an art, as is patience and understanding.  Giving people a break and acknowledging that they may be going through some tough times should be a basic human characteristic.  Great post.  Jim.

    • Anonymous says:

      Appreciate it, Jim. Even when we don’t have words to offer, at least we can listen.

  9. Leslie Adams says:

    Great post, Mike! I have a friend who says “There’s always more to the story,” when talking about what we see in other people’s lives, their actions, and what might really be going on.  Very often we don’t have a clue about the things that are going on with other people, even close friends. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Some people seem very willing to share the “more” to their stories…others, not so much. As I said in one of the other comments, being more perceptive with the people who don’t so readily share is something I wrestle with. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of it, Leslie.

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