Lend them your ears
For the first time ever, Youthwork opened up its doors for a one-day writers masterclass. Sixteen youth workers gathered from all corners of the country to share ideas, learn skills and to hone their craft. In the coming weeks we will be posting guest blogs from the attendees – here’s the first from Chris Spriggs.
It's time for a revolution. Just a quiet one, mind you.
I propose that the icons of love be changed. No more red hearts. No more flowers. To the many couples who send red roses on Valentine's Day, I'm sorry. Something's got to change.
In their place, I suggest a new symbol of love: the human ear. I know you can't easily pop a bunch of ears into a vase, and a box of caramel-coated lobes may not be met with loud whoops of delight, but hear me out.
Remember those words spoken at weddings? ‘Love is patient, love is kind’. Yes, love can include the giving of flowers and chocolates; the fixing or baking of something; a poem; a touch. However, I think St. Paul had something more profound in mind.
Like all well-worn phrases we become numb to their meaning, so another way of considering his words afresh could be: ‘Love takes time, it doesn't jump to conclusions, it hears you out.’ I guess many of us may fall short on that one.
Last year our team of volunteer mentors sat and listened to 192 individual young people, many of whom had stories of sadness, struggle and difficulty to tell. Incredible young people, being brave enough to talk and then think about ways through ‘their tricky stuff’. At the close of their mentoring experience, we ask how it has been for them; every single one told us they ‘felt listened to’. This isn’t just a performance statistic, it's an insight into how much simply listening matters to young people.
Our team of mentors would be the first to say they're still learning about how to listen, actively and exquisitely. Learning to hear what feelings lie behind the words and to offer the gift of silence, rather than rush to solutions. They are choosing to swap iContact for eye contact, and in so doing communicate acceptance of the person, however traumatic the story might sound. All this practice doesn’t make perfection, but it does send some important messages.
Being listened to affirms our unique humanity and being made in the image of God.
It connects us to each other, and reminds us we're not the only ones whose lives have rough edges and mouldy bits. Listening is a gift we can all give, and that we all need. It can turn our attention to the bigger story at work in a person’s life.
By all means purchase chocolates and send cards, but let's all go one step further. Let's use our eyes more and count to twenty before we say anything back. Give extra time to listen to those around you. A specific young person you know. Even the face you see in the mirror.
Just make sure those ears are securely attached - you don't want them turning up in a tin of roses.
Chris Spriggs is the director of Lifespace Trust.