Today marks the Summer Solstice. For the first time in quite a while I had the opportunity to catch up with some good friends after a long period of social distancing and isolation. I found myself reflecting on the nature of social relationships and their importance. In particular, the roles of talking, listening and just ‘being’ with others.
There’s a sense of warmth and restoration to be had from simply “being” with others. Solitude, if taken to the extreme, can bring a sense of barren emptiness and a lack of ‘context’ (for want of a better word) for our actions and our lives.
Telling others about your day and what’s on your mind somehow makes things more “real”, and provides much-needed validation. This is especially important during troubling times such as the Coronavirus lockdown, when we may be uncertain about our lives and the decisions we make. Without validation, without having someone to bounce ideas off of, we can find ourselves all at sea.
Just as tides ebb and flow, social conversations and other exchanges must circulate, roll and sweep, back and forth. Telling someone our problems is very healing, but there’s a mutual quality that all the most healthy social relationships share. A good conversation is, after all, a two-way affair. A little like playing catch with a ball.
It’s often said that talking is beneficial to us, “getting things off of our chest”, but what about listening?
Listening to others can enlarge our lives. When we open up and listen, we get a view of the vistas experienced by other folk. The perspectives offered can shape our own thoughts on things, and help us reframe our own views and schemas. Listening to others opens a treasurebox of intimacy and insight.
Listening provides the space for someone else to talk, as we give witness to someone else’s triumphs and joys, loves and losses. By listening we can help others with their burdens, we put ourselves aside for awhile, become receptive and make space for them in our attention. We don’t interrupt, or offer solutions, we internalise and own the exerience of our companion, giveng them a chance to be heard.
When someone trusts us with their woldview, their opinions, hopes and dreams, when someone confides in us, it is an honour. We should handle that trust gently and kindly.
So there is talking and listening, giving and receiving; sometimes there’s no need for either. Sometimes It’s OK to just ‘be’ with someone.
When we sit quietly and share a film, or heck, just sit quietly with someone and do nothing, there’s a certain sense of peace and belonging we can find..
I think this is the most important part of any form of companionship. How comfortable are you simply staring into space and doing nothing with your friend? It’s a real gift to have people in your life where you can just spend time doing nothing much together.
You and I have earned our right to be here simply by being here, and we can honour each other just by ‘being’ with each other.
It is the Summer Solstice of 2020, it’s been a very painful year for many. We’re half way through though, and as the days get cooler and the sun gets lower, we can ask ourselves:
- Who can we confide in?
- Who do we listen to?
- Who can we just ‘be’ with?
I find myself thinking of this old quote:
There was an owl liv’d in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
O, if men were all like that wise bird.I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 403.