Sometimes we are so busy being a good spouse or parent by giving. Are we giving what they need to get? There is one thing they need more than anything else, it costs nothing and yet it is often overlooked. It’s you truly being present.
One of the biggest presents we can give to another person is being present for them. No pun intended. Simply being present for another person is one of the most invaluable gifts we can give to someone. And it’s actually reflective of one of the most important characteristics that we can develop and that is making the other person the priority. Making ourselves secondary. That means in the presence of another person, no phone, no texting, just being.
Any form of self‑expression when we are in the presence of another person can very often actually take away from the gift that we can give them and that is being present for them. And it’s actually even more important than the advice we want to offer them about whatever it is that they are speaking to us about. Why? Simply because advice is an expression of you; listening is putting the focus on them. And that’s why more than giving advice to someone who speaks to us about an issue that they have is our ability to listen to them and to hear them and understand them. That is actually better advice than giving them advice.
And, in fact, we have a fascinating Jewish teaching which tells us that when one has a worry on their heart, and as the saying goes, daagah b’lev ish, a worry on the heart of man, what should one do when they have a worry? Yasichena l’acherim, you should share your worry with another, speak it out to another person.
Now, this is fascinating. The teaching doesn’t tell us get advice from another person. It tells us speak it out to another person. Because what helps a person the most when they have a worry, a trouble, a concern, a question on their heart is not the advice they get from the other person, it’s the ability to be able to speak it out to another. Because simply by having someone who we can speak to, who listens to us, that actually, that process of sharing it actually opens up within ourselves a reservoir of advice and awareness that we come to simply by being able to share this with another person.
But we all probably know that it’s very difficult, it’s very hard for us to find someone who we can speak to who listens, who is simply present for us, creating a space within which we discover on our own so much.
Now, you may be thinking, well, that’s exactly right, I can’t think of anyone I have who actually has the patience to listen to me and to hear me out, understand me, feel what I’m going through. And that may be very correct because it’s very difficult to find people who are present for others. But you know what, you have to stop waiting to find that person. You have to start thinking a little bit differently. And this is what I call beginning within. Begin within yourself to be that person for someone else. Because, as they say, you can’t get what you don’t give or you can’t get what you don’t have. So if you have the ability to be present for another, you will soon start discovering people who can be present for you.
But the most important thing is not finding people who can be present for you, the most important thing is being that which you want from other people. And so start thinking how can I become a person who is a much better listener? Because I know how important that is and how much I want it, I want to learn how to give it. Because, after all, what are we talking about, being present for another? And if all we want is to get that out of others, we’re definitely not becoming a good demonstration of what we’re talking about.
There’s a fantastic and very inspiring story with the well‑known psychotherapist Victor Frankl, author of a very famous book which, if you haven’t read you must read, called Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. It’s a thin book and it’s a must for anyone who wants to lead a meaningful life. Man’s Search For Meaning. And he shares an incident where a woman called him up in the middle of the night because she was suicidal and she was going to commit suicide. And so he stayed on the phone with her and he talked her through her depression and constantly giving her many different reasons as to why she should carry on with life and not end her life. And, finally, after a long conversation, staying on the phone with her, she promised that she would not end her life. And she didn’t.
A while later, Victor Frankl met this woman and he asked her, he said, I’m curious, I gave you a lot of reasons that night to continue carrying on and not ending your life and I’m curious to know which reason was it that convinced you not to end your life? And she said, You know, Dr. Frankl, it wasn’t any of the reasons that you shared with me that night that convinced me not to end my life. And he was shocked. So he said, So what was it? She said, It was the fact that you stayed on the phone in the middle of the night and you wouldn’t get off until I made a commitment to you that I wouldn’t end my life.
Do you hear how powerful that is? This woman was expressing that what was far more important to her than any reason was the fact that Victor Frankl valued her life enough to inconvenience himself in the middle of the night not to get off until she made the commitment. It was the fact that he was ready to be there with her. It wasn’t the advice that he was offering her. It was that he would give up his time to be with her. That is what told her that her life really matters. And that’s what we do every time a person gives us the space to express ourselves.
Think for a moment about a time that you were speaking with someone who you valued and they listened to you and you were a little bit surprised that they actually stuck it out and they were there to hear what you had to say. You were surprised by that. And what did it tell you about yourself? It told you that you are a person of value. That’s exactly what it told you. And that’s what it tells others when you spend the time listening to them, not sharing necessarily what you have to say about the subject. So it’s not what you have to say that’s nearly as important as what the other person has to say and, actually, what the other person needs heard or listened to by you.
This is actually just one example of the importance of us learning that what’s most important is not ourselves but the other. And this, of course, is at the core of our relationship with G‑d and at the root of the challenge we have in our relationship with G‑d. And that is the ability to be there for the creator of the universe who asks us to do things even though at times we don’t appreciate those things. We don’t even understand them. But it’s the art of learning to simply be there completely and entirely and genuinely for another. And what’s even more fascinating is that the more we do this, the happier we become. Because our lives become expanded way beyond ourselves, breaking out of the limitation of being ourself alone.
So next time someone is speaking to you, pay more attention to what they have to say and think less about what you are going to offer.