In our new online series, A Reader Writes, readers share their stories of life during lockdown. For Josie Wilkins, she’s learning the lesson of a lifetime …
My quarantine began like everyone else’s. I whipped out a once loved instrument and pained my family with a rendition of Galway Girl. After a harsh reminder of why my fiddle skills were abandoned, I went on a mission to clear out my wardrobe. The accumulation of clothes I forgot existed left me feeling overwhelmed. Mission aborted. I then moved on to learn how to do a headstand, nearly breaking my neck. Returning to my bedroom, surrounded by the heaps of clothes from my discarded clear-out, I was bored. With only my thoughts to entertain me I began to question what I could do to really better myself during this isolation period. What could I do to better my relationships, and improve my overall standard of life? I decided to prioritise something that I generally don’t: listening. Marie Kondo will have to wait.
I’ve always considered myself an entertainer. I love sharing my stories and experiences. However, with literally nothing else to do, I’ve realised just how little I know about everyone else’s life. Each time my mum asks me what an old friend is up to I give a hesitant response. Teaching in Madrid, or is it Barcelona? As for what they’re teaching – is that a trick question? That’s not to say I spend every second nattering about myself, but when it’s the other person’s turn, my thoughts tend to wander. Is there any point in washing my hair tonight if I exercise tomorrow? If I tan tonight will I be sufficiently bronzed by Friday? I may appear to be listening, but alas, I am not. I leave the conversation with no reminder that a world exists outside of my own. I remember a certain chat I had with a new friend a few years ago. Her mention of a past trip to Morocco piqued my interest and I chirped, “that’s cool, when did you go there?” I was quite taken aback when she bit my head off in response. She aggressively snapped that she previously mentioned this holiday to me. I immediately presumed that I had done no wrong and that my new friend was slightly unhinged. I have come to learn that this is not the case. She is simply attentive. She puts her phone down and listens when you tell a story. She remembers the details and shows genuine interest. My failure to retain any information about her Moroccan trip was therefore a worthy source of frustration. As Oscar-worthy as your listening face may be, you’ll get caught out in the end. Plus, nobody, not one single person, likes to repeat themselves.
Since beginning to listen I’ve felt an improved connection with others. I ask questions, not to be polite but because I genuinely want to know the answers. My sister has always been the Chandler Bing type – nobody knows what she actually does for a living. Yesterday I became the first person in the family to finally learn that she is a biochemist. My conversations have grown from mindless gossip to mindful discussions and sharing interesting personal experiences. I have uncovered never-before-heard facts, stories and opinions from people I had known for years. Plus, taking the time to listen and ask questions can help to understand why someone is acting a certain way. There’s probably a reason why your sibling just cried over you eating the last rice pudding. Listening provides context, and context leads to understanding.
My conversations have grown from mindless gossip to mindful discussions and sharing interesting personal experiences.
Better relationships and engaging conversations are big contributors to a more fulfilling everyday experience. This I knew. However, what I didn’t expect was the knowledge I have gained since prioritising this resolution. Previously, when I attempted to re-tell a story, I’d fail miserably. This was a large motivating factor behind my new-found intention to deeply listen. I would leave out crucial details and get facts muddled up. I’m not sure who this was more frustrating for, me or whoever had to sit through my pointless, self-doubting spiel. In Jordan Petersons 12 Rules of Life he delves into just how you should listen. “I routinely summarise what people have said to me, and ask them if I have understood properly. Sometimes they accept my summary. Sometimes I am offered a small correction. Now and then I am wrong completely. All of that is good to know.” The best way to learn new information is by genuinely paying attention in a conversation. Everyone knows at least one thing you don’t. If you listen and truly absorb what is being said to you, you will become an interesting person who people enjoy talking to. Failing that, you’ll probably improve in pub quizzes.
So to proactively pass the rest of this isolation, however long it may be, here’s a tip: rather than making an empty promise to your overcrowded cupboards that they will be cleared, why not make a conscious effort to listen. You will improve your relationships. You will allow yourself to be inspired, motivated and intrigued at any time of any day. Lastly, you really will learn something new every day. Plus, headstands are overrated.
In this new online series, A Reader Writes, readers share their stories of coping with lockdown: exploring the emotions and feelings it is uncovering, discovering new hobbies and pastimes, navigating your new normal or just general observations surrounding this somewhat slower time. To share your story email [email protected] with ‘A Reader Writes’ in the subject line. We will publish a selection of new stories online each week.
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