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don’t be afraid to listen…

April 20, 2014

Listening is harder than you think.

In my world of work, the urge to ‘counsel’ – that generic term for when a youth suddenly, spectacularly, breaks down (and for a few minutes of their lives vomits forth all the horrid details, and the pain of why they are homeless and on the streets – that urge to counsel is so overwhelming, that most people in my business rarely hear – really hear – what that youth in that moment is trying to tell them.

For example: Here is one scenario of many that recurs frequently when working with homeless youth.

A youth, who has just been beaten up by a couple of cops, and is trying to de-construct with you what happened , screams out in his impotence that “all cops are fucking assholes!”, and with tears in his eyes he puts his fist through the drywall in your office (that same piece of drywall that all of the angry young men who have come into your office put their fists through) (that I had just replaced yesterday), and the youth worker replies with a “not all cops are bad” kind-of-automatic-response, and then moves immediately into the “let’s find you some programming” styled solution he/she was taught in school.

This kind of communication disconnect always leaves youth feeling like no one is listening. When a youth finally breaks down and discloses a pile of shit at your feet – the abuse, the punches to the head, the chronic verbal assault from parents who are themselves deeply broken – often multi-generationally broken – often addicts and criminals – when they finally trust you enough – in that moment – to tell you what their lives are like, the last thing they need to hear back from you is “corrective advice” on how it is inaccurate to say that “all cops are bad” and “you think that it would be good if we could get you into some anger management counselling”.

Of course the all-cops-are-bad exclamation is an inaccurate statement, but who, in that moment, should care? (And – if you want to go down the rabbit hole a little – ask yourself, “why was it important to you, in that moment, to correct this statement? What was your motivation?”).

Homeless youth live beyond the River Akheron, and this young person is pouring forth his Pain; revealing to you the sound of a giant gong that is ringing in their soul. He doesn’t need advice.

He needs you to simply listen.

To bear witness.

Homeless kids are the shadow-walkers of our culture. They are the very real 14 and 15 and 18 and 21-year-old youths of our world who do not have a home to live in. Their families are broken. And now they are broken. Hiding in the shadows of addiction, and violence, and self-harm.

There will be plenty of time for “counselling” later. For right now, just listen.

Listen to the world beyond the words. To the emotions swimming and swirling in the background.

Make tea.

Sit and talk.

Try not to be afraid of what they might reveal to you. And of how it will make you feel.

Just listen.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. S.J. Hines permalink*
    February 14, 2016 3:04 pm

    Reblogged this on Sisyphus.

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