Monday, May 27, 2013

Things I Have Learned So Far in Peace Corps: The Power of Listening

Nerd alert: This is me practicing my listenin' skills.

I know that this journey has changed me in ways that I am not aware of yet and may not be for years to come. I know that Tonga and Peace Corps will continue to impact my life long after I leave this place and will perpetually make me think about the ways in which I interact with the world. I believe that one of the biggest things I have learned so far on this journey is the power of listening.

I've encountered the importance of this throughout my Peace Corps service. There have been moments when I have really felt like I listened well and experiences where I know I didn't do my best, screwed up and chose to learn from those screw ups. I entered Peace Corps thinking that, because I was a girl with a pretty good head on her shoulders and a college degree, that I would have heaps of useful and valuable information to impart on the people of whichever country I traveled to.

And while there may be some truth to that, I'm realizing more that these people, this place, has a lot to offer and teach me as well. Good listening skills are important in every job and role in the world. I know this seems kind of obvious. But you can't be a poto (smart) McDonald's drive-thru operator if you can't listen, you can't be a good ballroom dancer if you don't first watch and listen to your partner's moves. If you can't listen, forget about being a good friend. No one wants to hang around someone who just talks all the time. You definitely can't be a good Peace Corps Volunteer if you don't occasionally shut up and just take in what's around you.

When we listen we learn from other people. We connect to other people. When we give our undivided attention to others and stop thinking about ourselves, we can help. We learn what the needs are and if we really have what it takes to help them. And if we don't have what it takes, we should listen so we know where to look for that help. And maybe help isn't needed at all. Maybe they just need an ear - someone to give them a verbal high five and tell them they are doing a good job. Someone to wipe away tears. A presence. But there is no way to know, unless we close our mouths and open our ears (and our hearts). We have two ears and one mouth so wouldn't it make sense to say that listening is twice as important as talking?  Didn't Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock say something similar to that? Smart guy.

I'm not perfect. I have a long way to go in terms of my listening ability. But I'm working on it and I'm glad that Peace Corps has helped me realize how much further I have to go and how much listening can help.

What's something you've learned recently?

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