Where would we be without other people’s ideas and perspectives? Without being able to see through another person’s eyes and re-see ourselves through their stories? You’re wearing Lululemon! Is it the best place to get running gear? And why (!!) are you are moving to China? Our lives are totally infused with the perspectives and patterns of others — families, friends, colleagues, and advisors. With people we value, every comment offered is a potential waypoint nudging our thinking and refreshing the way we see the world.
But, as dispensers of words, we’re often unaware of the influence they have on the receiver. Significant chains of events can stem from a passing conversation — or sometimes even from things we don’t remember we said. Pro-Vice Chancellor Māori at the University of Waikato, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith tells a wonderful story about the importance of kind words, as she recalls a student who unexpectedly came to visit her after an absence of nearly twenty years. It seems that the professor’s words of encouragement and vision to the then struggling student so long ago had sustained this young woman through an epic journey of academic and personal success. When the student returned to thank her, Professor Tuhiwai Smith thought back to her own wish to improve “the life chances, opportunities, and frameworks for Māori”. She was surprised to find herself achieving this with a few wise words whose particular weave had lasted through time; inspiring and protecting a learner.
Listening to stories from the heart such as this can be magic — stories speak to a very smart place in us where we tend to remember what we heard. Sometimes, as a result, we change the way we operate — not because someone told us to — but, because we ‘saw’ and discovered for ourselves something shiny and valuable in there, and we decided to have it too. In this purposeful listening, we give ourselves the space and the key to unlock our own door to empathy, intuition, and new possibilities for understanding. This is powerful learning, and very different from being in the “They’re-telling-me-what-to-do’’ space.