Active listening is paramount to being a caregiver. In the video below, Carl Rogers accurately defined active listening as a passive, yet participatory activity in which we listen for emotions, thoughts, and feelings that are part of the words people say.
Active listening is not simply not talking or even listening, per se. Active listening is giving attention to the talker. We are consumed by a cell phone, other ambient conversations in the room, or our own personal agenda. Honoring a person’s being and their time is required for active listening.
Much like Carl Rogers, defaulting to actively listening and giving time to people is sometimes the best we can do. We may not always solve problems or even have the right words, but we can always listen. We can give every person that: the audience of caring.
Active listening is also, to some extent, rooted in mindfulness and meditation. That is, to be mindful is to be actively engaged in our environment. We are not passing judgment or thinking in a temporal space other than the right now.
My favorite way to practice mindfulness is the 5-4-3-2-1 activity. This uses all five senses individually. First, use your sense of touch to consume your present being. Feel the smoothness of your desk; feel the coolness of your computer mouse. Next, simply be consumed by the sights around you. Take in the green leaves of a cedar tree; watch the leaves sway and feel the sway. Consume the presence of three sounds. Experience two tasts; listen to one thing intently, listening the tone, rhythm, and beat of the sound. The idea is to be part of the experiences around us. In short, the 5-4-3-2-1 is a great tactic to help reduce those distractions and to get us back to mindfulness.
What this all means? Actively listen and let the another person be your guide in their journey of emotions, feelings, and thoughts.
Why We Do This
It is easy to start with the common cliche that working in the human services is not about the glamour or money. That working in this field is a matter of being selfless to people who may need the extra help. Too easy to find the cliches that maybe miss the point of the human services.
Let’s take a long long journey back in time to the 70s—the 1970’s. In those days, people with severe and persistent mental illnesses or people who were classified as having developmental disabilities or people with personal cares that were too much for family members were often sent to institutions that resembled factories or detention centers called “hospitals.” Lab coats and uniforms blended in with the sterile white walls.
Don’t believe me? Geraldo Rivera, investigative reporter extraordinaire, visited such an institution called Willowbrook in the 1970s. What he found was horrifying, gross, and a demeaning of people who should have been treated like any other person, but were not. The link to the video contains language that is today considered uncouth or faux pas. Further, it gives a graphic yet realistic resemblance to what an institution looked like.
Throughout history, people who have required intensive assistance often have lacked the power and voice to make changes for their care and the care of the voiceless. Working in the human services is more than providing help or care. We are allies to every person so that they can have the same power and voice as we do. Sharing power and voice doesn’t diminish our own power or voice. It’s not a zero sum proposition.
To work in the human services is to help people. And to help people is to help them thrive in our community, state, country, and world.
Why do we do this? Because we believe in helping people achieve their full potential. We do this because we believe in treating every human with compassion, dignity, integrity, and respect. We do this because we must do better.