Growing up and hearing my Dad speak caused me great anxiety. The words were about blame, anger, judgment, etc. Al-Anon has taught me all the words he used against others were actually how he felt about himself. He blamed himself. He was angry with himself. He judged himself for not living up to his own dreams.
He had the disease of alcoholism and in my opinion, mental illness as well. I say, in my opinion, because he never sought treatment for either disease. He was highly intelligent, but just couldn’t make it in the real world. His mind was trapped.
In the book “One Day at a Time in Al-Anon” on the reading for July 8th it says, “By listening to more than mere words, I can learn much more than mere words can teach.”
When I listen to people, I listen for intent. Do they seem to want to help, even though the words hurt? Although I admit I can never really know another’s intent. I often chose to believe they intend good things. It’s a bit like forgiveness. I don’t forgive because they deserve it. I forgive because I deserve it. I’m happier when I chose to see the good in people. I’m happier when I chose to forgive.
Often people refer to the tone of one’s voice when communicating. In the electronic age with email, text, blogs, etc. you can’t hear tone. When I’m reading something, I have to be careful not to insert a negative tone that may not be there.
Similarly humor doesn’t always translate well to written text; it can come off as sarcasm or rudeness, for example. Am I inserting a snide tone, when really they were just making a statement or asking a simple question? This effort takes practice as my first reaction, prior to Al-Anon, was to believe the worst.
I try to assume the best in others, for my own happiness. They may not know how to communicate differently. Before Al-Anon, other people felt I “should know better” and behave better, communicate better. I just didn’t know any other way to communicate or behave.
In my meetings we say… “Are you listening? Or are you waiting for your turn to speak?” I have to ask myself; are they a stubborn old goat? Or are you?
I still have more work to do to become a better listener. I will try to hear the intended good – even if the words and tone don’t match. And if I can’t hear the good, I will try to remember that the blame, anger and judgment I hear may just be in reference to themselves.