L.I.S.T.E.N.—N is for Notice
We listen best with our eyes wide-open.
Our eyes are emblematic of what’s going on inside our hearts.
Focusing in with our eyes and hearts is a powerful
magnet for connecting with people.
Every week, for the next six weeks, we are sharing one of Someone To Tell It To’s values, one for each letter in the acronym L. I. S. T. E. N. These are values that we do our very best to model for and share with others. We believe these values hold the power to brighten our lives and to bring hope and reassurance in healing and helpful ways.
As Someone To Tell It To’s co-founders and Co-Chief Encouragement Officers, both of us have been informed in our leadership abilities by experiences that we each had – both positive and negative. In today’s final blog in this series, we share a few of those pivotal moments with you.
Today’s value comes from the letter “N” – Notice:
We notice one another and let one another know they are valued
- We listen and respond to what is spoken
- We notice and pay attention to what is unspoken
- We affirm one another’s personhood and respect them, offering affirmation, grace, and encouragement in every way we can
- We pay attention to what is working well and to how we can improve to better fulfill the mission
In graduate school, both of us had a similar experience of being noticed that we will never forget – and will always be grateful for. For me – Tom – it happened in a creative writing class entitled Storytelling. I had written and shared a story with the class that I wasn’t certain was very good. It embarrassed me, and after sharing it I asked to use the restroom. Our professor suggested the class take a 15-minute break, as I hurried out the door, trying to avoid anyone’s comments about my work. But my professor followed me outside and found me sitting on a bench, alone and feeling very insecure. He put his arm around me, and with a few words in his strong Irish accent declared something that continues to remind me of something very valuable today –
“You’re better than you think you are.”
For me – Michael – it was my professor of Greek who at Christmastime in my first year at the school, wrote to me (in Greek) these words –
“The gift I want to give you this season is a voice, one confident and clear. For you have something important to say.”
I was one of the quieter students, probably the most quiet, in the class and I didn’t voluntarily speak up as much as the others did. But she saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. Her gift, so many years later, was a gift of inspiration that enabled me to recognize that I did have a voice, and the ability to articulate it in speech and through the written word.
Both of our professors saw something in each of us that we weren’t seeing and feeling ourselves. They taught us both that our voices have validity and deserve to be heard.
They noticed us.
Their encouragement, affirmation, and gracious kindness have helped to sustain us in a world that is often slow to notice the gifts, the passions, the voices of those around us. Their modeling – their noticing – continues to inspire us today and reminds us of the power of noticing others – of paying attention, of listening with intention, of observing the many unspoken nuances of others’ feelings and lives.
It is why to notice is a foundational value of Someone To Tell It To’s mission.
I – Michael – have had some very personal and practical experience with noticing the unspoken as a father of a son who, at age 34 has never spoken a word in his life. My son Matthew who lives with a severe intellectual disability and autism is not able to speak. He can only gesture and make often hard to decipher sounds that challenge our family to try to understand what he wants and needs and is trying to convey. In good moments, we can figure it out. But in so many more moments, we cannot; we can only guess. But over the years we have been forced to notice, to pay attention, to be intentional about watching and observing the slightest of gestures and sounds that are definitely conveying what Matthew is trying to “voice”. One of the sweetest things Matthew will do for a few days after he has gotten a haircut, is to rub his head repeatedly and then look at me to see if I notice. When he does that, I always make a fuss and excitedly and enthusiastically ask him, “Did you get a haircut?”. That makes him rub his head more and produces the biggest smile on his face as he is noticed and as I ask him the question repeatedly. He seems to love that attention and recognition. And it only makes him rub his head and smile and laugh all the more. My heart is fiercely warmed every time. Wanting to be noticed for something good is a basic human need. After so many years of this kind of practice, I am so much better at noticing the spoken and unspoken nuances of others and what they are trying to say and convey.
Having grown up in a family of four boys – I Tom – didn’t really have a lot of experience living with girls. It was only my mother in a sea of males. I’m certain that wasn’t always easy for her. When I got married after college to my wife Sarah, there were times at first when we had trouble communicating. I wasn’t always adept at noticing her emotions and feelings or reading her expressions and discerning the nuances of what was unspoken. She struggled somewhat with that with me, too. She had grown up in a household of three girls. Her father was the only male in the house. But over time and as we continued to grow to know one another better and better, we began to notice how each of us naturally expressed thoughts, feelings and emotions to one another. We recognized that I am an outward processor and she processes inwardly. After 16 years of marriage, it only gets better, because we have taken the time to notice and to react to what we notice in ways that the other one needs and values. We’ll always be learning. That’s part of every good relationship. It’s what makes relationships work and only grow better because we do.
Someone To Tell It To began because we noticed each other, and our friendship deepened as we did. We listened to each other intently and grew in seeing the unspoken nuances that created an ever-growing bond. As our relationship strengthened and our common values were explored, we determined to help others create relationships of depth and emotional intimacy through listening and noticing. As we continued to hear more and more stories, learning together what all people need and long for, and as we saw and felt with greater and greater intensity the epidemic of loneliness that is affecting people all over the world, we knew that noticing others was one of the very special keys to alleviating this epidemic that afflicts the human condition.
We’re all wonderfully made. All of us, with our perfect imperfections, need to know that we are valued and cared for, and that we are noticed for the wonderfully-made people we are. The epidemic of loneliness can be diminished, and it can ultimately end when we know that others see us and know us and value us for who we are and for the wonderful gifts that we possess.
Read more about our L.I.S.T.E.N. values in this series: