Bring up any subject, for example, Canadian border crossings, and I can tell you a personal (well, no more than one degree removed) story that relates to it.
Mention the Ford Pinto; I have a story. Mention park rangers; I have a story. Mention "Sweet Home Alabama"; I have a story. Mention scurvy; I have a story.
That's right. I have a scurvy story.
Tortoises. Cotton Candy. Al Roker. Nuns. Priests. Tilt o Whirls. Cross dressers. Demi Moore. Tarantulas. Fitting Room Sex (witness, not participant). Shipwrecks. Hitchhikers. Bushels of dirt. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story. Story.
For a person who has lived a full, rich life, who has traveled far and wide, who has moved in circles with the rich and famous, this ability would hardly be a surprise.
I am not that person.
Sure, I've done some exciting things, been to interesting places, met some cool people. But, mostly I've lead a pretty ordinary,even mundane, life.
My talent lies in being able to take those few experiences and match them to your story, whatever it may be.
Recently, I've had the inkling that some of the beneficiaries of my gift might not see it as a good thing. It's entirely likely that some of my friends play a drinking game, one in which they take a shot whenever I start a story with "I once dated this guy who..."
To my dismay, not only do my children not appreciate but, for some time, have openly mocked it. I can not tell you the pain it caused me the first time they rolled their eyes, and groaned, "Not the Chicken Pot Pie Story again!"
Now, I view the Chicken Pot Pie Story as not only a humorous, winsome illustration of innocence, as well as a cautionary tale of the importance of careful word choice when speaking to children, but an important clue to the mystery of why their mother is, well..like she is. You'd think the relief of knowing that the cause is more nurture than nature, therefore making it unlikely that they will pass it on to their children, would alone be enough to make them want to hear it again and again.
So, why the blog?
I'll tell you.
The new Reader's Digest arrived recently. I was reading "Quotable Quotes" because I like the highbrow stuff.
The first quote was something Bono said. I don't remember it. But, Bono said it so, it was most certainly wise and very, very important (I have U2 stories, too- suitable for any occasion). However,the quote that grabbed me by the wrist, and dragged me to my computer was one by Steven J. Covey. I've never read any of Dr. Covey's books, but I have stocked them on shelves (did I mention I once worked in a bookstore), so I know who he is.
What Steven J. Covey said (or, at least what Reader's Digest said he said...I have not taken the time to authenticate the attribution of this quote. Nor am I sure that I used attribution correctly in that sentence) was, wait for it...
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply." My reaction was, Yeah! Those rotten people. I hate them!
After all, is there anything more aggravating than telling someone your wonderful (or poignant, or upsetting, or hilarious) story, only to have them respond, "You think that's something, listen to this..."
You smile, nod, pretend to listen but, the whole time they're talking, you're thinking, You jerk! You butt wipe! You uncouth person! You stomped on my story. It was MY story! I was waiting to tell it, I planned to elaborate and regale you for hours, but you just knocked it out of my hands, threw it to the ground, and hopped up and down on it. All so you could shove your stupid story in my face! I hate you!"
I asked myself if I am guilty of this transgression. The answer, no. Of course not. I am decent, thoughtful person with very few character flaws (that the average reader would know about or be able to prove in court).
But, what I could possibly be guilty of is boring hapless listeners with my seemingly endless, often repetitious, and sometimes (not often) not terribly scintillating stories.
I had an idea. So, I flushed, washed my hands, and updated my Facebook status. I told my friends that, for the next year (beginning May 10, 2012), I will listen to the stories of others without (that's right) replying with a story of my own. Instead, I will comment on their story. I will ask questions about their story. I will laugh, cry, or become indignant about their story.
To the casual observer, this endeavor might appear extreme. But, I'm an all or nothing kind of girl. And my attempt at changing my ways is less a reaction than an experiment.
What will happen if I listen to people without the intention of getting my own story told? Will I hear what they are saying? Will I learn to be more sensitive and understanding? Will the speaker feel validated? Will I appear to be an addle-brained dolt who doesn't know how to contribute to a conversation? We're going to find out.
It began yesterday. I work with seven other women. It wasn't easy. As a mother, listening to other mothers talking about their children, and not responding with a delightful anecdote that demonstrates how my children are so much more wonderful than theirs is an enormous challenge. But, I got through it. I'm not entirely sure anyone noticed, which is kind of the point. I want to find out how people feel when I listen- not lob the ball back at them with my own story, just listen.
I'll let you know what happens.