Monday, January 12, 2015

The Need to Be Heard

We all want to matter. We all want to our words to make a difference to someone. Whether it is the parent trying to get through to a stubborn child or an adult trying to have their ideas taken seriously in the workplace. We all want to be heard.

Some would look upon this as pride. And while they are lifting up their voices to decry the "pride" of others they themselves want to be (and expect to be) heard. You see, being heard is more than just the idea of others paying attention to our ideas. It is others paying attention to us as individuals. We live in a very lonely society. Even with your hundreds of "friends" and connections on social media the number of people that would take an hour out of their day and listen to your story are pretty few. That does not mean that you are not well liked or even loved. What it does mean is that all of humanity is self involved -- selfish. Because of this self involvement listening to others must be a trait that is cultivated. Because we know that others, like ourselves, are selfish and not likely to listen we value it greatly when we are truly heard by someone. It often doesn't matter who, just someone who will listen to us (not necessarily even our words) with their soul.

But today we aren't talking about the skill of listening. What we want to consider is why we as individuals have this need to be heard. I believe there are several reasons:

1. We were made in the image of God. God is a communicator. Therefore, we made in His image are made to be communicators. The quietest and shyest of us all communicates all day long. If that individual does not communicate by means of verbal speech they communicate by means of presence, attitude, expression, and body language. You don't have to talk to communicate, and everyone communicates. Simply put. We all need to be heard because we were created to be communicators.

2. We want to be understood. So much of what we do and say regarding other people is based purely upon assumption and conjecture. We think we know others. We all have said stuff before like, "I know his/her type." Based on very little, we have made certain assumptions about that individual. And we know that if we act and speak solely on assumptions regarding others that they do the same to us. This is why we all have a drive to be heard. We want to be understood. We cannot stand the idea that people are making snap judgments about us without our input. That does not mean that we need or even want the approval of others, but we certainly don't want others to make the wrong assumptions about us. We want to be understood and we want to be in control of the message by which others understand us.

3. We want to matter. We alluded to this in our opening statements on this topic. Everyone wants to feel like they matter to at least a few people. We like to think that if we die someone is going to miss not only our physical presence but our communication. If those few people give up on listening to us then our little world begins to come apart. The belief that your life, ideas, and love are valuable to others is validated in your mind by the fact that they listen. We want to matter. The way we know we matter is that there are a few people who not only hear what we say, but also actually listen to the expression of who we are conveyed in the language of our communication - whatever form that communication may take.

4. We want to know that we exist. The old question is, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?" Of course we know that it does, but humans are much more complicated than a tree. We are self aware. We know that the very fact that someone has heard us means that at the very least we exist, and maybe, just maybe, we are not alone. It is the difference between mentally knowing that people live in Kalamazoo, and actually talking to someone that is living there on the telephone or via teleconference. No, our existence does not hang on the precarious thread of being heard, but rather it is our perception of our own existence. Being heard makes us feel connected to life and thus, makes us feel like we are alive ourselves.

5. We want a legacy. No, that is certainly not in our minds when we speak, but it is a motivating factor. Every parent wants their children to listen so that they will obey and in turn become good people. Therefore, it stands to reason that when the words of the parent are truly heard (which includes obedience) they produce a legacy that will live beyond that parent. The legacy of a good citizen. The politician or preacher desires to be heard to push a policy or engage people in a teaching that will become embedded in society or individual's lives and will outlive that politician or preacher as a legacy. Everyone, from the mother, to the teacher, to the businessman in his high rise corner office wants their communication to become a part of the hearer. In this we find our legacy. It is one thing to leave an inheritance to others, it is another to leave a legacy of idea, philosophy, and teaching. Even if at the time we are not specifically attempting to graft a certain idea, philosophy, or teaching into the lives of our hearers.

6. We want validation. We want to know that the thoughts,ideas, plans, goals, and ambitions that we express by means of our communication with others are not without merit. We want someone to say, "That's a good idea." That assurance cements in our mind that we are not out on a limb all by ourselves. "Alone" has to be one of the scariest words in the English language. The validation by peers, superiors, and those that we see as subordinates all adds to a "confidence bank" somewhere deep inside of us. We say to ourselves. "They thought I was right. I am safe in my course of action." or "They thought my joke was funny. I must be likeable."

So, I set down this afternoon saying to myself, "I want to write something, but I don't know what. I want to say something to others. But why?" This is why. We have a need to communicate, and a part of that - a big part -  is the embedded need to be heard.

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