The late radio host Bill Drake used to quip, “Are you hard of listening?” as he emphasized the tendency to talk when we should be listening. In my career as a pastoral counselor, I found that my clients often longed for a trusted person to listen to their innermost concerns and understand them. 

The iconic psychologist Carl Rogers taught that “accurate warm empathy” is worth its weight in gold. He described empathy as the ability to understand another person as if you were that person. Accurately understanding them in a warm non-judgmental way can provide release and relief of troublesome thoughts, feelings and memories. It can actually be healing.  The degree to which we convey that kind of empathic understanding is in direct proportion to the potential it has to be of help to them.

In order to accomplish this, one will need to avoid listening through the filter of one’s own personal experience. Just because a person’s experience is similar to ours does not mean that he or she experiences it the same way. For instance if a friend’s mother dies and ours did also, it does not mean that our grief reaction will be the same. If our mom was a dear one, we may suffer a tremendous sense of loss. The other person‘s mom may have been an abusive jerk leaving the person with a sense of relief. 

Mary T. Lathrop in 1895 aptly wrote of this in her poem “Judge Softly”… “Just walk a mile in his moccasins before you accuse, criticize or abuse. If just for one hour, you could find a way to see through his eyes, instead of your own muse. I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind and narrow-minded, even unkind.”

By: Jim Rentz

DMin, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Army Chaplain Vietnam