SERVICE THROUGH EMPATHIC LISTENING

Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

Another character from a novel, Josephus in Herman Hesse’s The Father Confessor, was renowned as a great healer. In Josephus “a gift slumbered, and with the passing years…it slowly came to flower. It was the gift of listening. Whenever a brother from one of the hermitages, or a child of the world harried and troubled of soul, came to Josephus and told him of his deeds, sufferings, temptations, and missteps…or spoke of his loss, pain or sorrow, Josephus knew how to listen to him, to open his ears and heart, to gather the man’s sufferings and anxieties into himself and hold them, so that the penitent was sent away emptied and calmed…

“He regarded every man the same way, whether he accused God or himself, whether he magnified or minimized his sins and sufferings, whether he confessed a killing or merely an act of lewdness, whether he lamented an unfaithful sweetheart or the loss of his soul’s salvation. It did not alarm Josephus when someone told of converse with demons…He did not lose patience when someone talked at great length while obviously concealing the main issue…All the complaints, confessions, charges, and qualms that were brought to him seemed to pour into his ears like water into the desert sands. He seemed to pass no judgment upon them and to feel neither pity nor contempt for the person confessing. Nevertheless, or perhaps for that very reason, whatever was confessed to him seemed not to be spoken into the void, but to be transformed, alleviated, and redeemed in the telling and being heard. Only rarely did he reply with a warning or admonition, even more rarely did he give advice, let alone any order. Such did not seem to be his function, and his callers apparently sensed that it was not. His function was to arouse confidence and be receptive, to listen patiently and lovingly, helping the imperfectly formed confession to take shape, inviting all that was dammed up or encrusted within each soul to flow and pour out…”

Josephus experienced severe struggles, and discovered his own healing in entering the world of others, serving them as an instrument in their healing. To serve another person—be it a friend caring for friend or a businessperson serving a customer—means understanding the needs, desires, thoughts and emotions of that person. This is empathy, a way of being that creates a culture of trust, supports self-realization and generates a climate of healing and healthy resolution. This is a key quality in life-enriching relationships that are based on honor and respect for each individual.

The essence of these techniques and principles—such as empathy, effective attending behavior and appropriate silence—is to view the world from the other person’s perspective. Seeing the worldview of someone does not mean being in agreement with that view. We can be secure in our viewpoint while understanding another perspective. In fact, an internal sense of security naturally translates to an openness to other frames of reference.

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