Listen, Understand, Act

In a church service recently, we were given a challenge. Each person was instructed to write down a short, individual, life motto on the spur of the moment. The task was simple, but overwhelming. Without warning we were asked to put into words an important guide to living our lives. Our speaker went on to say that the motto should be one that makes each of us a better person, who will be of more use in our own small corner of the world!

There was a simultaneous gasp from the congregation. Someone called out, “I can’t do that. I have no paper or pen.”

“Look around,” came the answer. “See the tables scattered at the front and sides? Go there and you will find all you need.”  

I joined the bemused group investigating what the tables held, and returned to my seat to search for what to write. The lovely coloured card (thankfully small!) remained empty for some time. I guess we all recognized that the question was a serious one, even if the presentation of it was surprising. Silence fell over the hall, as people thought and wrote.

One by one we dropped our cards in the basket and walked to where our after-church coffee was served. That day most of the conversations started with, “How did you answer that question?”

I have little idea of the topics my fellow church members chose, but I am sure there would be a great variety. Our church has a great diversity of everything, age groups included. As a person well launched into my 90s, I thought of no dramatic project that was realistic for me. I wondered if my words would apply to my everyday life in my pleasant seniors’ residence. Would they make any difference?

And what were the words I came up with? They lead the way into this essay.

Listen, Understand, Act.

No matter how old I grow, how good or difficult my niche is, I crave someone to listen to my stories, to understand me without criticism, and to act on my behalf if necessary. Admittedly my greatest challenge is to first remember to listen to what my friend is saying, with the goal of understanding the hidden message behind the words. There will be time later to tell her my stories. The least-used word is act. It is mainly covered by encouraging people to make use of the many caring professionals on staff. They are more than willing to help us.

The last thing suggested to us was to make a card with our chosen words on it, and to put it in a place where we would see it every day, like the mirror in our bathroom. Speaking again as one of the over-90 group, that seems like a good idea. Things drift away from my failing memory like seaweed on a receding tide. Despite that, I know a good thing when I see it. Making an effort to change things for the better, even a little bit, is worth trying, “You in your small corner, and I in mine.


Filed under This & That

14 Responses to Listen, Understand, Act

  1. Ljobson

    Listen…such an important skill to cultivate. Both you and mom were/are such good listeners and by being good listeners influenced so many of us. I’m trying to learn from your example.

    • Marjorie

      I still miss that mother of yours, Leone. After I have struggled slowly to my feet, I remember her doing the same, then saying in a satisfied voice; “There, did it, and I didn’t even grunt!”
      Over the years she did a lot of listening to me – as I slowly grew up! Your dad used to say, “I’m the doctor, but she’s the one who heals.”

    • Alison

      I agree Leone, both your mom, and Marj were/are good listeners. A wonderful quality!

  2. Brenda Wallace

    We have often told others of our wonderful relationship with our friend, Alice, who we met shortly before her 94th birthday. Over the next 10 years we visited and dined with Alice yearly and each time we were amazed by her recall of our previous visits. “Before I forget,” she would say, “how is your brother doing?” Then she would remind us of an ongoing situation in our lives that we would have discussed the previous year with her unfailing and well-practised ability to listen. Her total focus would be on our conversation and she could make us feel that whatever concerned us was of utmost importance to her in that moment as well. Her questions would lead to understanding and, although her subsequent actions were limited by her physical challenges, her obvious love and enjoyment of our friendship carried us through to our next visit.
    Thank you so much, Marjorie, for your valuable insights. We love you for them!

    • Marjorie

      Brenda – And thanks to you two for keeping the links between us so alive. Greeting to all at the church.

  3. I think your advice applies to seeking God’s way, too. We have to put in the time of listening prayer and self-examination to be able to fully understand our own circumstances. Only when we have that fullness of understanding should we take action on the difficulties we are facing. Thank you for your very succinct and wise advice!

    • Marjorie

      Laurna – I approach my response to your very welcome comment, with some caution. Religious beliefs and the application of same, vary as widely as mankind itself. Whether the two of us are on the same section of the spectrum or not, I suspect there is more we agree on, than where we disagree.
      Remember the advice of one of the ancient philosophers, “Know Thyself”…and only then proceed.
      Turn to Leigh Hunt’s widely known and much loved poem “Abou Ben Adhem”. Abou met his disappointment at not finding his name among “Those who love the Lord”, by saying to the angel, “then write me as one who loves his fellow man.” When the angel returned the next night, and “showed the names whom love of God had blessed, lo Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest”.
      So that’s one way of looking at it, Laurna. One is never successful in reaching one’s goals all the time but they are worth the try. The sentiments expressed in this poem, form one of my yardsticks to measure my life.

  4. For years, I’ve been asking visitors to the studio to Draw a Toilet and then write down a brief piece of Advice for Living. I make posters of all of the drawings and give them to the participants. Of the hundreds of pieces of advice given, I love these two:

    Be kind.
    Don’t wait. (equally good advice for life and bowel hygiene!
    The posters make excellent art for a bathroom.

    As for listening & understanding, it is right up there. So few people can carry on a real conversation, but just seem to be waiting until the other person is finished talking, so they can talk, usually beginning their sentence with “I”.
    Really listening is hard, but so worth it.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, Barbara – we all like to talk, don’t we. It takes real effort to listen (as I well know), but so worth the effort!

  5. Jim Taylor

    Marjorie, I think I’m fairly good at listening, and sometimes okay at understanding (though I see things through my own filters, of course). But the necessity for acting brings out all my procrastination abilities. I must remember that there are THREE distinct elements to your life motto. Thank you.
    Jim T

    • Marjorie

      Jim, I suspect that you know that stating something that you believe to be true, is one thing. Always acting according to that belief is another! When I feel I have hit close to my three-pronged motto – there is a certain satisfaction that goes with it. When I miss the mark, it is “Well, maybe next time!”
      The importance of listening, and understanding, is usually beyond question. The tricky part is knowing what action, if any, is called for. Unfortunately, flipping a coin is not the answer.

  6. Judith

    Your article reminds me of a quote I heard in an emergency medicine rotation in medical school: “Don’t just do something! Stand there!”. (i.e., listen and understand first before you act, even in an emergency)

    • Alison

      Judith – a WISE saying, especially applied to medicine!

    • Marjorie

      Right, Judith! It may only take a moment, but always take that moment to think before acting. Then your action has a much better chance of being a response to a need, rather than a reaction to it.