• Nathaniel G. Sands

Let's talk... and listen

The problem with #BellLetsTalk comes down to one word - How?

All of us have found sorrow. All have dealt with heartbreak, death, illness, and loneliness. What is the appropriate response?

I grew up in a family that didn't talk openly and honestly about our inner struggles. Like many boys I grew up idolizing my father. He was a hard man - I would even say an emotional rock! I remember one time coming home from school and my mother telling me not to bother him, he was sad. I was curious and had to sneak a peak. I saw him sitting on the foot of his bed, not crying but simply sitting in sorrow. He had just found out his favorite Uncle-K had died. He was not weeping when I tiptoed quietly up to the door and peaked through the crack, but I could see that my rock of a father was deeply hurt.

Literally, this was the only time I can remember seeing my father in emotional agony, although I know he lived it often. He was the kind of guy who shouldered his own burdens so as to not burden others. For a long time, I followed his example.

I have since learned this is a foolish approach. It is a form of deception. If we think we can pretend our hurts don't exist, they will either eat us slowly from the inside out, or catastrophically in moments where the pressure becomes unmanageable. It is a mistake to think we need to go through inner pain alone. We are social creatures and are built for helping each other with our burdens.

Now, there is a case to be made for the culture of "Picking yourself up by the bootstraps." Most of the time, our struggles come from our own accord. Not that life is easy, or fair - in fact most of the time it's the opposite of those things! But what I mean is that much of the time we are in a bad mental state simply because of how we cope with those things. We can easily focus on the negative things instead of the positive. And sometimes we have been given an unfair share of the agony going on around us. But who said life is fair? And when you hear the honest struggles of those around you, you will quickly realize this to be the case.

I have found talking about my feelings to be a much more appropriate response to the issues mentioned above than that of my dad's. Over the years writing poetry and philosophy has helped me articulate my woes and make sense of them. I encourage you to try it!

But also, and more importantly, we need to build genuine friendships. Put down that phone, meet up with a friend and start a conversation! The problem is it's not easy. It requires effort! And the effort you put into it will not go unnoticed! Sometimes it requires us to forgive someone who has hurt us, or to humble ourselves by exposing our vulnerabilities. This can be hard to do, but it starts with being honest and making an effort to listen to the care of another.

Be kind and courageous. Kindness so as to build friendships, and courage so as to fight for them.

#BellLetsTalk leaves out a fundamental principle - the listener. I believe many of us struggle because we are too self centered. We talk not to understand our thoughts, but to impose them. We look for affirmation, pity, or admiration ahead of all else. And instead of paying attention to others, we wait absentmindedly for our turn to speak.

Be courageous. Share the struggles you are going through, and encourage others to do the same. The best encouragement is to be honest about your faults and failures and to listen intently to others'. Seek understanding and progression, not pity or affirmation.

And most importantly, do not judge lest ye be judged. Someone else's problems might sound ridiculous to you, but certainly your problems sound ridiculous to others.

Love yourself, love others.

God bless.

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