I just returned from a vacation to the sun. I actually had time to read a few novels – it was heaven. The first one had been recommended by my 20 year old daughter – The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. I knew it was narrated by a dog who told the story of his life with his human family so I thought it might be a bit hokey. Not all all. It was a funny, wise and heartwarming story and I highly recommend it.
There was one particularly wise piece that I marked to come back to:
Here’s why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt. I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another’s conversations constantly. It’s like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street. For instance, if we met at a party and I wanted to tell you a story about the time I needed to get a soccer ball in my neighbor’s yard but his dog chased me and I had to jump into a swimming pool to escape, and I began telling the story, you, hearing the words “soccer” and “neighbor” in the same sentence, might interrupt and mention that your childhood neighbor was Pele, the famous soccer player, and I might be courteous and say, Didn’t he play for the Cosmos of New York? Did you grow up in New York? And you might reply that, no, you grew up in Brazil on the street of Tres Coracoes with Pele and I might say, I thought you were from Tennessee, and you might say not originally, and then go on to outline your genealogy at length. So my initial conversational gambit – that I have a funny story about being chased by my neighbor’s dog – would be totally lost, and only because you had to tell me all about Pele. Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.
What a great lesson for mediators and others who assist people in conflict. We shouldn’t always be thinking one step ahead, planning our response, ensuring that we sound wise, afraid that we don’t have the answer. We need to really listen. The other person will feel heard and that may be all they need. If not, when they are finished we can ask some clarifying questions. The rest will flow from that.
Thank you Garth Stein. I loved your book as a great holiday read, and as a nice lesson as well.
Kari D. Boyle, Executive Director, Mediate BC Society
Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Racing-Rain-Novel/dp/0061537969